Immune cellular parameters of leprosy and human immunodeficiency virus-1 co-infected subjects

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Leprosy and human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) are examples of human infections where interactions between the pathogen and the host cellular immunity determine the clinical manifestations of disease. Hence, a significant immunopathological interaction between HIV-1 and leprosy might be expected. In the present study we explored several aspects of cellular immunity in patients co-infected with HIV-1 and Mycobacterium leprae. Twenty-eight individuals were studied, comprising four groups: healthy controls, HIV-1 and M. leprae co-infection, HIV-1 mono-infection, and M. leprae mono-infection. Subjects in the mono-infection and co-infection groups were matched as far as possible for bacillary load and HIV disease status, as appropriate. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were analysed using six- and seven-colour flow cytometry to evaluate T-cell subpopulations and their activation status, dendritic cell (DC) distribution phenotypes and expression of IL-4 by T cells. The co-infected group exhibited lower CD4: CD8 ratios, higher levels of CD8+ T-cell activation, increased Vδ1: Vδ2 T cell ratios and decreased percentages of plasmacytoid DC, compared with HIV-1 mono-infected subjects. Across infected groups, IL-4 production by CD4+ T lymphocytes was positively correlated with the percentage of effector memory CD4+ T cells, suggesting antigenically driven differentiation of this population of T cells in both HIV-1 and M. leprae infections. Co-infection with M. leprae may exacerbate the immunopathology of HIV-1 disease. A T helper 2 (Th2) bias in the CD4+ T-cell response was evident in both HIV-1 infection and leprosy, but no additive effect was apparent in co-infected patients.

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