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The influence of helminths on immune responses to HIV.

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In South Africa, co-infection with HIV and intestinal parasites is a major challenge in disadvantaged communities who live in densely populated under-serviced urban informal settlements. This pilot cross sectional study evaluates the immunological effects of co-infection with Ascaris lumbricoides and Trichuris trichura on the immune response to HIV. The work was a substudy of a prospective double blind, placebo-controlled investigation to test whether regular deworming changes the immune profile of HIV positive individuals with concurrent helminth infection. The substudy has a cross sectional design and presents pilot data that defines immune profiles of HIV-1 positive individuals with and without gastrointestinal helminth (Ascaris lumbricoides and Trichuris trichura) infection. The hypothesis was that concurrent helminth infection adversely affects immune responses against HIV. It was conducted in an area of high helminth endemnicity and limited infrastructural resources. Individuals with known HIV infection were recruited from an HIV Support Group and HIV negative individuals residing in the same area (for demographic matching) were used for comparison. The substudy was to provide pilot data for future larger scale and possible interventional studies. The current work is limited by the cross sectional design, moderate sample size and practical challenges. The profile of lymphocyte phenotypes, viral loads, eosinophils, activation markers, expression of the nuclear proliferation antigen-Ki67 and activation regulator antigen CTLA-4 were analysed using flow cytometry in HIV positive and negative subgroups with or without helminth infection. The type-1, type-2 and inflammatory cytokines were analysed using multiplex cytokine array technology. These were correlated with immune responses to HIV. Non parametric statistics were used to describe differences in the variables between the subgroups. A major finding of the study was the result of the supplementary use of the serological marker, Ascaris lumbricoides-specific IgE in addition to the presence (or absence) of helminth eggs in stools to classify intestinal helminth infection status. Two significant outcomes of this measure were the enhancement of diagnosis of current or recent helminth infection and, more importantly, the distinction of different phenotypes of individuals who displayed different immunological responses to co-infection with HIV and helminths. The different helminth infection phenotypes are defined by stool egg positivity (egg⁺) or negativity (egg⁻) with either high or low Ascaris-specific IgE (IgEhi or IgElo) respectively. The four subgroups, egg⁺IgEhi, egg⁺IgElo, egg⁻IgEhi and egg⁻IgElo showed different interactions with regards to immune response to HIV. It should be noted that no Trichuris specific IgE tests are commercially available but that there is significant antigenic cross-reactivity with Ascaris antigen. The presence of helminth stool eggs and high Ascaris IgE (egg⁺IgEhi) was associated with the following characteristics: reduction in numbers of all lymphocyte populations, frequent eosinophilia, highly activated immune profiles, antigen specific proliferative hyporesponsiveness, impaired type 1 cytokine responses in unstimulated and antigen stimulated cells and increased TNFα levels. In HIV infected individuals, the egg⁺IgEhi helminth infection status was associated with lower but not significant CD4⁺ counts and higher viral loads. A strong negative correlation was observed between viral loads, CD4⁺ and CD8⁺ cells in this subgroup. Subgroups with high IgE (egg⁺IgEhi and egg⁻IgEhi) had elevated Th2 markers with lower CD4⁺ counts and higher viral loads in the HIV⁺ group. The inverse correlation between viral load and CD4⁺ counts found in all the HIV⁺ participants was strongest in these two subgroups. Individuals with parasite eggs in stool and low Ascaris IgE (egg⁺/IgElo) presented a modified Th2 profile. This subgroup had high absolute numbers of all lymphocyte subsets in both HIV⁻ and HIV⁺ groups with higher CD4⁺ counts in the HIV⁻ and lower viral load in the HIV⁺ groups as well as higher interferon gamma, lower IL-4 and higher IL-10. In conclusion, the results suggest that helminth infections may be associated with deleterious effects on the immune responses to HIV in certain groups of susceptible individuals. The underlying reasons for the different stool egg/Ascaris IgE combinations in settings with high exposure to helminthes is currently not clear but genetic predisposition and environmental factors could play a role. Future studies of helminth- HIV co-infection have to ensure adequate definition of helminth infection status by the use of both stool examination and measurement of helminth-specific IgE as the infection phenotype is associated with differential effects on HIV associated immune responses. This may also apply to co-infection with other pathogens, including tuberculosis. The long-term effect of helminth co-infection in HIV positive people was not assessed in this study but requires further studies.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2009.


HIV infections., Immunology., Medical microbiology., Helminths., Theses--Immunology.