Treg cells protect babies from getting HIV infection from their mothers

June 10, 2018, American Society for Microbiology
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Scientists now report that Treg cells, a type of regulatory lymphocyte, may be protecting babies in the womb from getting infected with the HIV virus when the mother is infected. The research, from the Emory Vaccine Center, is presented at ASM Microbe, the American Society for Microbiology's annual meeting, held from June 7th through 11th in Atlanta, Georgia.

"Finding out what protects the majority of babies is important, as it can lead to ways to boost natural immune responses and make individuals resistant to HIV infection, said Peter Kessler, laboratory intern with the Emory University School of Medicine. Scientists had been puzzled for years by the fact that only a minority of babies born to mothers with HIV infection get the infection from their mothers. Currently, HIV infection can be successfully managed with antiretroviral drugs, but these drugs have to be given for life. Preventing the infection is very important, but there is no vaccine available yet.

Kessler and his colleagues from the Emory Vaccine Center found that levels of Treg lymphocytes were higher in the blood of newborn babies born to mothers with HIV infection who had escaped the infection themselves, compared with babies who were born with HIV infection.

Lymphocytes are of the immune system that protect the body by fighting bacteria and viruses. Treg cells, or regulatory T cells, are an important "self-check" in the immune system to prevent excessive immune reactions that could lead to tissue damage.

The researchers examined the blood of 64 babies who were born HIV-uninfected and 28 babies born HIV-infected and found that Treg cell levels were higher in uninfected babies at the time of birth. In contrast, other lymphocyte types were activated and higher in HIV-infected infants. The HIV virus can only infect cells that are activated, so Treg may protect from HIV by suppressing activation of other lymphocytes.

They analyzed the stored blood by flow cytometry, a technique that can differentiate between the different types of cells based on what markers they express on their surface. Regulatory T cells come in many forms with the most well-understood being those that express the markers CD4, CD25, and FOXP3.

"Even though the number of babies studied is relatively small, these findings indicate that Treg, by controlling immune activation, may lower the vulnerability of the babies to HIV or other chronic infections even before they are born," said Kessler. These results could pave the way for the development of vaccines or other immune-based therapies that could be used together with medications to prevent the spread of HIV or other infections from mothers to their babies.

A poster highlighting their work will be presented by Peter Kessler at the ASM Microbe 2018 meeting in Atlanta, GA, on June 10, 2018, 12:45-2:45 pm. The mothers and babies in this study were part of a CDC-funded clinical study in Malawi that looked at ways to prevent the spread of HIV from mothers to their during childbirth and breastfeeding.

Additional authors on this study are Surinder Kaur and Chris Ibegbu from the Emory Vaccine Center

Explore further: T cell-inducing dengue vaccines may better protect children of vaccinated mothers

Related Stories

T cell-inducing dengue vaccines may better protect children of vaccinated mothers

December 22, 2017
For a long time, a dengue vaccine was the holy grail in dengue research. Now that a dengue vaccine is finally on the market (Sanofi's Dengvaxia), other issues have arisen, such as what happens in the babies of vaccinated ...

When malaria infects the placenta during pregnancy, baby's future immunity can be affected

May 9, 2017
Mothers infected with malaria during pregnancy can pass more of their own cells to their baby and change the infant's risk of later infection, a new study shows.

Taking antibiotics during pregnancy is linked to increased risk of child infection, hospitalization

February 5, 2018
A new study by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) has revealed children born to mothers who were prescribed antibiotics during pregnancy may have up to a 20 per cent higher risk of being hospitalised with infection.

Study suggests opioid addicted newborns do better in room with mother than in NICU

February 6, 2018
A team of researchers affiliated with the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice has found evidence suggesting that newborn babies addicted to opioids do better when they are kept in hospital rooms with ...

Follow-up lacking for babies after hepatitis B vaccination: CDC

September 27, 2012
(HealthDay)—Many U.S. babies born to mothers infected with hepatitis B do not receive recommended follow-up testing after vaccination, a new study finds.

Recommended for you

New simulation tool predicts how well HIV-prophylaxis will work

June 14, 2018
A new mathematical simulation approach predicts the efficacy of pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications, which help prevent HIV infection. The framework, presented in PLOS Computational Biology by Sulav Duwal ...

Many at risk for HIV despite lifesaving pill

June 11, 2018
Multiple barriers may stop high-risk individuals from accessing an HIV drug that can reduce the subsequent risk of infection, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Active HIV in large white blood cells may drive cognitive impairment in infected mice

June 7, 2018
Macrophages, large white blood cells that engulf and destroy potential pathogens, harbor active viral reserves that appear to play a key role in impaired learning and memory in mice infected with a rodent version of HIV. ...

HIV vaccine elicits antibodies in animals that neutralize dozens of HIV strains

June 4, 2018
An experimental vaccine regimen based on the structure of a vulnerable site on HIV elicited antibodies in mice, guinea pigs and monkeys that neutralize dozens of HIV strains from around the world. The findings were reported ...

HIV study reveals new group of men at risk of infection

June 4, 2018
A group of men who may be underestimating their HIV risk has been identified in a new study.

Discovery reveals how cells try to control levels of key HIV protein

May 31, 2018
One of the many challenges in treating HIV is that the virus can lie dormant in cells, quietly evading immune detection until it suddenly roars to life without warning and begins replicating furiously. Salk Institute researchers ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.