Background. Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) caused by Trypanosoma brucei gambiense can be diagnosed in the early hemolymphatic stage (stage 1 [S1]) or meningoencephalitic stage (stage 2 [S2]). Importantly, individuals harbouring high and specific antibody responses to Tbg antigens but negative parasitology are also diagnosed in the field (seropositive [SERO]). Whereas some develop the disease in the months following their initial diagnosis (SERO/HAT), others remain parasitologically negative for long periods (SERO) and are apparently able to control infection. Human leucocyte antigen (HLA)-G, an immunosuppressive molecule, could play a critical role in this variability of progression between infection and disease.
Methods. Soluble HLA-G (sHLA-G) was measured in plasma for patients in the SERO (n = 65), SERO/HAT (n = 14), or HAT (n = 268) group and in cerebrospinal fluid for patients in S1 (n = 55), early S2 (n = 93), or late S2 (n = 110). Associations between these different statuses and the soluble level or genetic polymorphisms of HLA-G were explored.
Results. Plasma sHLA-G levels were significantly higher in HAT (P = 6 × 10−7) and SERO/HAT (P = .007) than SERO patients. No difference was observed between the SERO/HAT and HAT groups. Within the HAT group, specific haplotypes (HG010102 and HG0103) displayed increased frequencies in S1 (P = .013) and late S2 (P = .036), respectively.
Conclusions. These results strongly suggest the involvement of HLA-G in HAT disease progression. Importantly, high plasma sHLA-G levels in SERO patients could be predictive of subsequent disease development and could represent a serological marker to help guide therapeutic decision making. Further studies are necessary to assess the predictive nature of HLA-G and to estimate both sensitivity and specificity.