Immunological events in acute HIV-1 infection before peak viremia (hyperacute phase) may contribute to the development of broadly cross-neutralizing antibodies. Here, we used pre-infection and acute-infection peripheral blood mononuclear cells and plasma samples from 22 women, including 10 who initiated antiretroviral treatment in Fiebig stages I-V of acute infection to study B cell subsets and B-cell associated cytokines (BAFF and CXCL13) kinetics for up to ~90 days post detection of plasma viremia. Frequencies of B cell subsets were defined by flow cytometry while plasma cytokine levels were measured by ELISA. We observed a rapid but transient increase in exhausted tissue-like memory, activated memory, and plasmablast B cells accompanied by decline in resting memory cells in untreated, but not treated women. B cell subset frequencies in untreated women positively correlated with viral loads but did not predict emergence of cross-neutralizing antibodies measured 12 months post detection of plasma viremia. Plasma BAFF and CXCL13 levels increased only in untreated women, but their levels did not correlate with viral loads. Importantly, early CXCL13 but not BAFF levels predicted the later emergence of detectable cross-neutralizing antibodies at 12 months post detection of plasma viremia. Thus, hyperacute HIV-1 infection is associated with B cell subset changes, which do not predict emergence of cross-neutralizing antibodies. However, plasma CXCL13 levels during hyperacute infection predicted the subsequent emergence of cross-neutralizing antibodies, providing a potential biomarker for the evaluation of vaccines designed to elicit cross-neutralizing activity or for natural infection studies to explore mechanisms underlying development of neutralizing antibodies.
Keywords: B-cell subsets; BAFF; CXCL13; acute HIV; cross-neutralizing antibodies.