- Open Access
Constitutive activation and accelerated maturation of peripheral blood t cells in healthy adults in burkina faso compared to Germany: The case of malaria?
© I. Holzapfel Publishers 2011
- Received: 21 June 2011
- Accepted: 8 July 2011
- Published: 2 December 2011
It is not exactly known how frequent exposure to Plasmodium falciparum shapes the peripheral blood T-cell population in healthy West Africans.
The frequency of peripheral blood CD4+ lymphocytes responding to Plasmodium falciparum merozoite surface protein 1 (Pf MSP-1) by production of interferon-gamma (IFN-γ), interleukin-2 (IL-2) or tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) was determined using a commercially available flow cytometric activation assay (Fastlmmune) in 17 healthy adults in Nouna, Burkina Faso. T-cell activation and maturation in peripheral blood of healthy adults in Burkina Faso (n = 40) and Germany (n = 20) were compared using immunophenotyping and three-colour flow cytometry.
Significant numbers of Pf MSV-1 -specific CD4+ lymphocytes producing IFN-γ, IL-2 and/or TNF-α were detected in 14 healthy adults in Nouna. Cytokine profiles showed predominant production of IFN-γ and TNF-α. Compared to Germans, Burkinabé showed markedly lower proportions of CCR7+ CD45RA+ naïve CD4+ cells and slightly higher frequencies of CD95+ CD4+ T-cells and of CD38+ CD8+ T-cells. The median antibody-binding capacity of CD95dim CD4+ T-cells in Burkinabé was more than twice the value observed in Germans (263 vs. 108 binding sites per cell, p < 0.0001).
We hypothesize that an IFN-γ-induced increase in the expression level of CD95 on CD4+ lymphocytes may lower the activation threshold of resting naïve CD4+ T-cells in healthy adults living in Burkina Faso. Bystander activation of these cells deserves further study as a molecular mechanism linking strong IFN-γ responses against Plasmodium falciparum to decreased susceptibility to parasitemia observed in specific ethnic groups in West Africa.
- flow cytometry
- Pf MSP-1
- interferon gamma
Compared to Europeans, Africans frequently show signs of chronic immune activation of peripheral blood T-cells Clerici et al. 2000. Recently, we assessed the distribution of T-cell maturation phenotypes in a population living in Nouna, rural Burkina Faso Böhler et al. 2007 and observed significantly lower proportions of CD45RAbright CCR7pos naive Tcells in healthy adults compared to published data from France Saule et al. 2006. Such a skewed distribution of T-cell maturation phenotypes may be a consequence of chronic immune activation. Exposure to Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of malaria in that area, may be a driving force behind chronic immune activation. However, the ability of the parasite to induce long-lasting T-cell immunity has long been questioned Achtman AH et al. 2005 Struick and Riley, 2004. We therefore screened the population in Nouna during the dry season for the presence of peripheral blood T-cells specifically recognizing Plasmodium falciparum merozoite surface protein-1 (Pf MSP1), a surface protein expressed during the parasite's blood stage Holder AA, 1988.
The immune response against Plasmodium falciparum blood-stage components is centrally mediated by interferon-gamma ( IFN-γ), which is produced predominantly by CD4+ effector memory T-cells McCall and Sauerwein, 2010. Antigen-dependent release of IFN-γ has been shown to up-regulate the Fas-receptor (CD95) on bystander cells Müllbacher et al. 2002. CD95-expression on human CD4+ T-cells was characterized by a bimodal distribution showing two peaks, i.e., CD95dim and CD95bright Böhler et 2001. We had shown in the past by magnetic bead isolation and 3-color flow cytometry Böhler et al. 1997 and by 4-color flow cytometry Böhler et al. 2001 that the cell populations constituting the CD95dim and the CD95bright peak of CD4+ T-cells correspond to resting naïve and activated memory cells, respectively. We therefore performed a second study consisting in a direct comparison of CD95 expression levels on T-cells in peripheral blood of healthy adults in Burkina Faso and healthy subjects living in Germany. Our results indicate that differences in the dynamics of T-cell maturation as well as in levels of T-cell activation between Burkina Faso and Germany may be caused by differences in the exposure to Plasmodium falciparum.
Nouna is situated in North West Burkina Faso near the Malian border. Malaria transmission is high during the rainy season between July and November and very little transmission occurs at other times of the year Müller et al. 2001. Approximately 6 months after the malaria season in May and June 2005 peripheral blood from healthy male and female blood donors was screened for the presence of Pf MSP-1 -specific CD4+ lymphocytes during a blood donation campaign in Nouna. The study was part of a population-based study which was undertaken to generate site- and gender-specific reference values for immunohematological parameters in healthy adults. It was approved by the Institutional Ethics Committees of the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and of the Nouna Health Research Centre, Burkina Faso Klose et al. 2007.
All donors received a clinical examination and all blood samples were tested for infection with HIV (Determine and Genie II, Abbott Laboratories, Wiesbaden, Germany), HBV (Bioline HBsAg Rapid Test Kit, Standard Diagnostics, Kyonggi-Do, Korea) and syphilis (RPR 100, Newmarket Laboratories, Suffolk, UK). In 17 healthy donors (5 male and 12 female) with a median age of 32 years (range, 17 to 43) the frequency of Pf MSP-1-specific CD4+ lymphocytes was assessed. All participants were local residents with lifelong exposure to Plasmodium falciparum not showing clinical signs of acute malaria. During preliminary experiments on peripheral blood from 4 healthy adults in Heidelberg no Pf MSP-1-specific CD4+ lymphocytes had been detected.
Participants of the follow-up study were recruited between September 2008 and February 2009 from students and employees at the Medical Faculty of the University of Heidelberg in Germany (Heidelberg, n = 20), the Centre Hôpitalier Universitaire Yalgado Ouedraogo (CHUYO, Ouagadougou, n = 20), and the Centre de Recherche en Santé de Nouna (CRSN, Nouna, n = 20) in Burkina Faso. All subjects had a negative HIV test and no clinical signs of illness. Both the national ethics committee in Burkina Faso and the institutional ethics committee at the University of Heidelberg had approved the study protocol. CHUYO is situated in the urban area of Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, West-Africa.
Samples from Heidelberg were analyzed on a standard FACSCalibur flow cytometer (BD Biosciences, San Jose, CA, USA) equipped with two laser sources, samples from Ouagadougou on a FACSCalibur (BD Biosciences) with only one laser source, and samples from Nouna on a standard single laser FACScan flow cytometer (BD Biosciences). CaliBrite beads (BD Biosciences) were used to set the instrument on a regular basis. Instrument settings were controlled longitudinally and remained constant during the study. Data acquisition for immunophenotyping peripheral blood T-cells was stopped manually when at least 10,000 events were counted in the predefined gate. Data acquisition for the lymphocyte activation assay was not stopped manually; instead, usually, the whole blood sample was acquired in order to increase the amount of analyzable CD4+ T-cells (see below). List mode data from all samples were analyzed using the CellQuest Pro software version 5.2 (BD Biosciences).
CD4+ and CD8+ naïve and memory lymphocyte subsets were assessed with anti-CD4- or anti-CD8-PerCP, anti-CD45RA-FITC and anti-CCR7-PE conjugated monoclonal antibodies as described Böhler et al. 2007. In order to allow pooled analysis of list mode data obtained on different flow cytometers in the three different study sites, a pattern recognition approach based on the recognition of the cell population clearly identifiable as CD45RAbright CCR7pos naïve T-cells Sallusto et al. 1999 was used to define the position of the quadrant marker distinguishing different T-cell maturation phenotypes. Compared to our original analysis Böhler et al. 2007, this approach led to an overestimation of the CD45RAlow CCR7pos central memory subpopulation and an underestimation of CD45RAbright CCR7neg effector memory cells, but avoided a fixed setting of the border between CD45RAlow and CD45RAbright or between CCR7neg and CCR7pos cells, which would be influenced by differences in FCM settings (e.g., different photomultiplier voltages). The proportion of naïve T-cells was not affected by the differences between both methods of analyzing list mode data.
For determination of the median fluorescence intensity (MFI) of CD95 and CD38 on T-cells, specific T-cell subpopulations were identified by histogram markers as shown in Figure 1. CD95-expression on human CD4+ T-cells was assessed as described, i.e., analyzing CD95dim and CD95bright T-cell subpopulations separately Böhler et al. 2001. The expression of CD38 on CD8+ T-cells was characterized by a single unimodal distribution curve in the histogram Onlamoon et al. 2005. The histogram marker was set to include the CD38bright cell population which has been shown to be of potential clinical interest Tuaillon et al. 2009. The QuantiBrite test kit (BD Biosciences) was used in all experiments to convert MFI values into antibody-binding capacity (ABC) per cell according to the instructions of the manufacturer. Since calibration curves were generated on each instrument at each site separately using the same batch of QuantiBrite beads, the resulting numerical ABC values were not influenced by the different FCM settings.
where Δ2 = (% cytokine specific CD4+ lymphocytes in unstimulated control)/100 - (% cytokine specific CD4+ lymphocytes in antigen stimulation)/100, pav = ((% cytokine specific CD4+ lymphocytes in unstimulated control)/100 + (% cytokine specific CD4+ lymphocytes antigen stimulation)/100)/2, and N is the necessary number of acquired cells needed for a statistical significance of p < 0,05 with a statistical power of 90%. If the number of acquired CD4+ lymphocytes was higher than N, the cytokine production was considered positive.
Mean values, percentiles and standard deviations were calculated for each variable using the GraphPad Prism version 5.00 (Graph Pad Inc., San Diego, CA, USA). Differences between subjects from different sites were analyzed using the non-parametric Mann-Whitney U-test, p-values < 0.05 indicated statistical significance.
Cytokines produced upon ex vivo stimulation with Plasmodium falciparum merozoite surface protein-1 (PfMSP-1) by CD4+ lymphocytes in healthy adults living in Nouna, Burkina Faso
Tumor necrosis factor α
Comparison of clinical and immunological parameters between healthy adults in Burkina Faso and Germany
Female [n = ]
Age [median, range]
Naive CD4 + lymphocytes
CD45bright CCR7+ [% of CD4+ lymphocytes]
CD4 + T-cell activation
CD95+ [% of CD4+ T-cells J
CD95-ABC of CD4+CD95dimT-cells [AUJ
CD95-ABC of CD4+CD95brightT-cells [AUJ
Naïve CD8 + lymphocytes
CD45bright CCR7+ [% of CD8+ lymphocytes]
CD8 + T-cell activation
CD38+ [% of CD8+ T-cells]
CD38-ABC of CD8+CD38+T-cells [AU]
Short-term stimulation of peripheral blood lymphocytes with the malaria antigen Pf MSP-1 allowed us to detect significant numbers of Pf MSP-1-specific CD4+ lymphocytes in healthy HIV-1-negative blood donors in Nouna, Burkina Faso, but not in Heidelberg, Germany. Fourteen of 17 healthy blood donors in Nouna (82%) harboured cytokine producing Pf MSP-1-specific CD4+ lymphocytes in their peripheral blood - a number quite similar to the 80% prevalence of antibodies against Pf MSP-1 observed in the local population (Coulibaly B, unpublished results). T-cell memory against Plasmodium falciparum is thus detectable for at least 6 months after the rainy season, i.e., after the period of high exposure to the parasite.
Naturally acquired T-cell responses to Plasmodium falciparum may shape the expression pattern of activation markers on peripheral blood CD4+ T-cells from healthy adults in different ways. Direct involvement in the cellular immune response via T-cell receptor activation may lead to recruitment of naive CD4+ T-cells into the effector memory or the central memory pool, thus increasing the percentage of CD4+ CD95bright Tcells and causing a decrease in the percentage of CCR7+ CD45RA+ cells. Bystander activation of naïve CD4+ T-cells due to intermittent high production of IFN-γ by Pf MSP-1-specific CD4+ lymphocytes may increase expression levels of CD95 especially on CD4+CD95dim bystander T-cells. When comparing healthy adults in Burkina Faso and Germany, all these parameters were significantly different between both groups. Our findings therefore indicate that naïve CD4+ T-cells are more activated in healthy adult Burkinabe than in Germans. Differences in the exposure to Plasmodium falciparum are the most likely explanation for this phenomenon.
Skewed maturation and increased activation of peripheral blood T-cells could also be caused by exposure to other infectious diseases. We had observed high prevalences of, e.g., CMV and HBV in the study area Collenberg et al. 2006. However, T-cell responses to viral infection would be expected to involve primarily the CD8+ T-cell compartment Miles et al. 2007. The differences in markers of CD8+ T-cell maturation and activation between healthy adults in Burkina Faso and Germany were characterized only by a slightly higher percentage of CD38+ CD8+ T-cells in Burkinabe. Differences in the exposure to viral infections are therefore an unlikely cause of the deviations observed in the CD4+ T-cell compartment in these individuals.
We had previously shown that elevated CD95 expression levels on cD4+CD95dim T-cells in HIV-1-infected children and adolescents were not necessarily leading to increased CD95-induced apoptosis of these cells in vitro Böhler et al. 1999. It is not known, whether increased CD95 expression alters other functional T-cell properties. The CD95 signaling cascade has pleiotropic effects on these cells. While high signal intensities may silence T-cell receptor-induced activation (anergy) or cause activation-induced cell death (apoptosis), low signal intensities especially in resting T-cells may exert co-stimulatory effects Paulsen and Janssen, 2011. Stronger early IFN-γ responses against Plasmodium falciparum have been correlated with lower susceptibility to parasitemia in an interethnic comparison in Mali McCall et al. 2010. The molecular mechanism which mediates this effect has not yet been discovered. The IFN-γ-induced increase in expression levels of CD95 on CD4+ lymphocytes observed in our study may contribute to this effect by lowering the activation threshold of resting naïve CD4+ T-cells.
We are grateful to all volunteers in Ouagadougou, Nouna, and Heidelberg. Thanks are due to Hermann Bujard for providing recombinant Pf MSP-1, Annette Kapaun for help with recruitment of volunteers for developing the ex vivo short term lymphocyte activation assay in Heidelberg, and to Jean Ganamé for help with recruitment of healthy controls in Nouna. This study was supported by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SFB 544, project A6) and by stipends from Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD).
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