Early in life, HIV-exposed uninfected (HEU) infants are at an increased risk of morbidity and mortality from infectious disease compared with HIV-unexposed (UE) infants. To improve our understanding of the mechanisms underlying their increased risk, we contrasted innate immune development between HEU and UE infants in a developing world setting, where early life infectious disease risk is exceptionally high.
Susceptibility to infection as well as response to vaccination varies among populations. To date, the underlying mechanisms responsible for these clinical observations have not been fully delineated. Because innate immunity instructs adaptive immunity, we hypothesized that differences between populations in innate immune responses may represent a mechanistic link to variation in susceptibility to infection or response to vaccination.
HIV-exposed but uninfected (HEU) infants born to HIV-infected mothers from areas in the world with a high burden of infectious disease suffer higher infectious morbidity and mortality than their HIV unexposed uninfected (HUU) peers. Vaccination provides protection from infection. The possibility exists that altered response to vaccination contributes to the higher rate of infection in HEU than in HUU infants. While short-term, cross-sectional studies support this notion, it is unclear whether or not HEU infants develop long-term protective immune responses following the WHO extended program on immunization (EPI). Vaccine-specific antibody responses were compared between HEU and HUU infants from 2 weeks until 2 years of age in a longitudinal South African cohort. Total IgG and antibodies specific for Bordetella pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), tetanus toxoid, hepatitis B virus (HepB), and measles virus were measured at multiple time points throughout the first 2 years of life. Prevaccine antibodies (maternal antibodies passively acquired) specific for tetanus were lower in HEU than in HUU infants, while prevaccine antibodies to HepB were higher in HEU than in HUU infants. Both groups responded similarly to tetanus, Hib, and HepB vaccination. HEU demonstrated stronger pertussis vaccine responses, developing protective titers 1 year earlier than HUU patients, and maintained higher anti-tetanus titers at 24 months of age. Vaccine-induced antibodies to measles virus were similar in both groups at all time points. Our results suggest that the current EPI vaccination program as practiced in South Africa leads to the development of vaccine-specific antibody responses that are equivalent in HEU and HUU infants. However, our data also suggest that a large fraction of both HEU and HUU South African infants have antibody titers for several infectious threats that remain below the level of protection for much of their first 2 years of life.
The first year of life represents a time of marked susceptibility to infections; this is particularly true for regions in sub-Saharan Africa. As innate immunity directs the adaptive immune response, the observed increased risk for infection as well as a suboptimal response to vaccination in early life may be due to less effective innate immune function. In this study, we followed a longitudinal cohort of infants born and raised in South Africa over the first year of life, employing the most comprehensive analysis of innate immune response to stimulation published to date. Our findings reveal rapid changes in innate immune development over the first year of life. This is the first report depicting dramatic differences in innate immune ontogeny between different populations in the world, with important implications for global vaccination strategies.
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