Mycobacterium tuberculosis and HIV coinfection Effects on innate immunity and strategies to boost the immune response

University dissertation from Linköping : Linköping University Electronic Press


Tuberculosis (TB) still remains a big threat today, being the leading cause of death by a single infectious agent. The TB epidemic is fueled by HIV along with the increasing drug-resistance which prolongs the already long treatment duration and decreases the success rate for curing TB. In most cases an infection results in latency but HIV patients have a 20-30 times higher risk of developing active TB. There are around 36.9 million people living with HIV globally, with the highest burden in Africa. Although there are effective treatments against the disease, there is no cure for AIDS and the availability of the lifelong treatment is limited in low-income countries were the burden is highest. HIV infection causes an immunodeficiency characterized by the progressive loss of CD4 T cells which increases the risk of opportunistic infections, and infection by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the causative agent of TB. Mtb spreads through aerosols from one person with active tuberculosis to a healthy person. Upon inhalation the bacteria are phagocytosed by alveolar macrophages that secrete cytokines and chemokines to recruit more cells, such as dendritic cells, macrophages and lymphocytes, leading to the formation of a granuloma. During a single TB infection the bacteria are usually contained within the granuloma, but HIV can disrupt the stable granuloma, causing a rupture and dissemination of Mtb. This inflammatory site is also beneficial to HIV since it promotes replication of the virus within infected cells. HIV and Mtb are two successful intracellular pathogens able to avoid immune defense mechanisms both of the innate and adaptive immunity in order to persist and replicate. Their virulence factors can manipulate or inhibit cell signaling, phagosome maturation, autophagy, ROS production, apoptosis and antigen presentation, to promote survival. Boosting of immune defenses with host-directed therapies (HDT) has been proposed as a treatment strategy against TB, either alone or adjunctive to the current regimen.

In this thesis, ways to boost the innate immune responses in Mtb and HIV coinfected macrophages were investigated, along with studies of the effect of HIV on Mtb antigen presentation in coinfected dendritic cells. The initial hypothesis was that autophagy induction through inhibition of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) could suppress Mtb growth in HIV coinfected macrophages. However, during a low grade infection, autophagy induction increased Mtb replication due to a decreased autophagic flux and acidification of Mtb phagosomes. A general autophagic flux was induced, although not localized to the Mtb phagosomes, thus not inducing a xenophagy (autophagy of intracellular pathogens). Other ways of inducing autophagy or boosting the response in coinfected macrophages might be more beneficial and therefore the effect of efferocytosis was investigated. Uptake of apoptotic neutrophils by coinfected macrophages did not induce autophagy but enhanced the control of Mtb by other means. Upon efferocytosis, the macrophages acquired active myeloperoxidase (MPO) from the neutrophils that suppressed Mtb growth. The coinfected macrophages also produced more ROS after efferocytosis. The inhibition of Mtb growth could thus be mediated by MPO and the increased ROS production either directly or indirectly.

The possibility to boost the innate immunity could prove to be important during an HIV coinfection, when the adaptive immunity is deficient. In addition to the well-known decline in CD4 T cells during the course of HIV progression, we found that HIV infection of dendritic cells inhibited antigen presentation by suppressing the expression of HLA-DR and co-stimulatory molecules on coinfected dendritic cells. Furthermore, HIV reduced secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines and suppressed antigen processing through inhibition of autophagy. This impaired antigen presentation in coinfected dendritic cells resulted in a decreased activation and response of Mtb-specific CD4 T cells.

In conclusion, this thesis shows how HIV can manipulate antigen presentation in Mtb coinfected dendritic cells and subsequently inhibit the adaptive immune response. It also contributes to insights on how efferocytosis of apoptotic neutrophils can boost the innate immune responses during coinfection. Lastly, autophagy induction through mTOR inhibition does not enhance protection against TB. Induction of autophagy should therefore be handled with care, particularly during HIV coinfection. 

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