Impaired CD4 T cell memory response to Streptococcus pneumoniae precedes CD4 T cell depletion in HIV-infected Malawian adults

Objective Invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in HIV-infected African adults. CD4 T cell depletion may partially explain this high disease burden but those with relatively preserved T cell numbers are still at increased risk of IPD. This study evaluated the extent of pneumococcal-specific T cell memory dysfunction in asymptomatic HIV infection early on in the evolution of the disease. METHODS: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were isolated from asymptomatic HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected Malawian adults and stained to characterize the underlying degree of CD4 T cell immune activation, senescence and regulation. Pneumococcal-specific T cell proliferation, IFN-γ, IL-17 production and CD154 expression was assessed using flow cytometry and ELISpot. RESULTS: We find that in asymptomatic HIV-infected Malawian adults, there is considerable immune disruption with an increase in activated and senescent CD4 + CD38 + PD-1 + and CD4 + CD25 high Foxp3 + Treg cells. In the context of high pneumococcal exposure and therefore immune stimulation, show a failure in pneumococcal-specific memory T cell proliferation, skewing of T cell cytokine production with preservation of interleukin-17 but decreased interferon-gamma responses, and failure of activated T cells to express the co-stimulatory molecule CD154. CONCLUSION: Asymptomatic HIV-infected Malawian adults show early signs of pneumococcal- specific immune dysregulation with a shift in the balance of CD4 memory, T helper 17 cells and Treg. Together these data offer a mechanistic understanding of how antigen-specific T cell dysfunction occurs prior to T cell depletion and may explain the early susceptibility to IPD in those with relatively preserved CD4 T cell numbers.