Persistence of human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical disease in the context of HIV co-infection can be influenced by introduction of antiretroviral therapy (ART) and sustained immune activation despite ART. We conducted a cross-sectional study in order to evaluate immune activation/exhaustion in ART-suppressed HIV(+) women with or without high-risk (HR) HPV-related cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). 55 South African women were recruited in three groups: HR (-) (n = 16) and HR (+) (n = 15) HPV with negative cervical histopathology, and HR (+) HPV with CIN grade 1/2/3 (n = 24). Sampling included endocervical brushing (HPV DNA genotyping), Pap smear (cytology), colposcopic punch biopsy (histopathology, histochemical evaluation of immune cells), and peripheral blood (clinical assessment, flow cytometry-based immune subset characterization). Statistics were done using R2.5.1. Irrespective of the presence of CIN, HR (+) HPV women had higher circulating levels of T cells expressing markers of activation/exhaustion (CD38, PD1, CTLA-4, BTLA, CD160), Tregs, and myeloid subsets expressing corresponding ligands (PDL1, PDL2, CD86, CD40, HVEM) than HR (-) HPV women. A decrease in circulating NK cells was associated with CIN grade. CD4(+) T cell count associated negatively with T cell exhaustion and expression of negative regulators on myeloid cells. Women with CIN when compared to HR (-) HPV women, had higher cervical cell density in stroma and epithelium for CD4(+), CD68(+), and CD11c(+) cells, and only in stroma for CD8(+) cells. We conclude that in ART-suppressed HIV-infected women with HPV co-infection the levels of T and myeloid cell activation/exhaustion are associated with the presence of HR HPV genotypes.
Keywords: ART; Activation; HIV; HPV; exhaustion.