T-cell Responses to HSV-1 in Persons Who Have Survived Childhood Herpes Simplex Encephalitis

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Abstract

Background:

Herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE) after primary herpes simplex virus (HSV)-1 infection can occur in children due to inborn errors of cell-intrinsic immunity in the central nervous system. Paradoxically, symptomatic mucocutaneous HSV-1 recurrences are rare survivors of childhood HSE. T-cell–acquired immunity is thought to be involved in control of recurrent mucocutaneous HSV infection. We thus tested HSV-1–specific immunity in HSE survivors.

Methods:

We obtained serum and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from participants a median of 13.5 years after HSE. HSV-1 and HSV-2 IgG was detected by type-specific immunoblot. PBMCs from subjects passing quality control criteria were tested using enzyme-linked immunospot assay for CD4 interferon-γ responses with an HSV-1 lysate and for CD8 responses using pooled synthetic HSV-1 peptide CD8 T-cell epitopes. Healthy adult PBMCs were used to standardize assays and as comparators.

Results:

All participants were HSV-1 seropositive. Most (23/24) HSE survivors had human leukocyte antigen class I types matching the human leukocyte antigen restriction of the pooled peptides. We detected HSV-specific CD8 T-cell responses in 14 of 24 (58%) HSE survivors and in 9 of 9 healthy HSV-1 seropositive adults. HSV-specific CD4 T-cell responses were present in all 5 HSE subjects tested and in 8 of 9 healthy adults. Response magnitudes were overlapping between subject groups.

Conclusions:

The defects in cell-intrinsic immunity leading to failure to control primary central nervous system HSV-1 infection do not preclude the acquisition of specific immunity or the control of recurrent mucocutaneous HSV infections. The rarity and lack of severe or recurrent mucocutaneous HSV infection in survivors of childhood HSE corresponds with intact adaptive T-cell immunity.

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