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PLoS One. 2011 Apr 29;6(4):e19197. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019197.

Altered T cell memory and effector cell development in chronic lymphatic filarial infection that is independent of persistent parasite antigen.

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  • 1Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.


Chronic lymphatic filarial (LF) infection is associated with suppression of parasite-specific T cell responses that persist even following elimination of infection. While several mechanisms have been implicated in mediating this T cell specific downregulation, a role for alterations in the homeostasis of T effector and memory cell populations has not been explored. Using multiparameter flow cytometry, we investigated the role of persistent filarial infection on the maintenance of T cell memory in patients from the filarial-endemic Cook Islands. Compared to filarial-uninfected endemic normals (EN), microfilaria (mf) positive infected patients (Inf) had a reduced CD4 central memory (T(CM)) compartment. In addition, Inf patients tended to have more effector memory cells (T(EM)) and fewer effector cells (T(EFF)) than did ENs giving significantly smaller T(EFF):T(EM) ratios. These contracted T(CM) and T(EFF) populations were still evident in patients previously mf+ who had cleared their infection (CLInf). Moreover, the density of IL-7Rα, necessary for T memory cell maintenance (but decreased in T effector cells), was significantly higher on memory cells of Inf and CLInf patients, although there was no evidence for decreased IL-7 or increased soluble IL7-Rα, both possible mechanisms for signaling defects in memory cells. However, effector cells that were present in Inf and CLInf patients had lower percentages of HLA-DR suggesting impaired function. These changes in T cell populations appear to reflect chronicity of infection, as filarial-infected children, despite the presence of active infection, did not show alterations in the frequencies of these T cell phenotypes. These data indicate that filarial-infected patients have contracted T(CM) compartments and a defect in effector cell development, defects that persist even following clearance of infection. The fact that these global changes in memory and effector cell compartments do not yet occur in infected children makes early treatment of LF even more crucial.

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