Purpose: In between innate and adaptive immunity, the recently identified innate-like mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) lymphocytes display specific reactivity to non-streptococcal bacteria. Whether they are involved in bacterial sepsis has not been investigated. We aimed to assess the number and the time course of circulating innate-like T lymphocytes (MAIT, NKT and γδ T cells) in critically ill septic and non-septic patients and to establish correlations with the further development of intensive care unit (ICU)-acquired infections.
Methods: We prospectively enrolled consecutive patients with severe sepsis and septic shock. Controls were critically ill patients with non-septic shock and age-matched healthy subjects. Circulating innate-like lymphocytes were enumerated using a flow cytometry assay at day 1, 4 and 7.
Results: One hundred and fifty six patients (113 severe bacterial infections, 36 non-infected patients and 7 patients with severe viral infections) and 26 healthy subjects were enrolled into the study. Patients with severe bacterial infections displayed an early decrease in MAIT cell count [median 1.3/mm(3); interquartile range (0.4-3.2)] as compared to control healthy subjects [31.1/mm(3) (12.1-45.2)], but also to non-infected critically ill patients [4.3/mm(3) (1.4-13.2)] (P < 0.0001 for all comparisons). In contrast NKT and γδ T cell counts did not differ between patients groups. The multivariate analysis identified non-streptococcal bacterial infection as an independent determinant of decrease in MAIT cell count. Furthermore, the incidence of ICU-acquired infections was higher in patients with persistent MAIT cell depletion.
Conclusions: This large human study provides valuable information about MAIT cells in severe bacterial infections. The persistent depletion of MAIT cells is associated with the further development of ICU-acquired infections.