A third of adults with AIDS and cryptococcal meningitis (CM) develop immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS) after initiating antiretroviral therapy (ART), which is thought to result from exaggerated inflammatory antigen-specific T cell responses. The contribution of monocytes to the immunopathogenesis of cryptococcal IRIS remains unclear. We compared monocyte subset frequencies and immune responses in HIV-infected Ugandans at time of CM diagnosis (IRIS-Baseline) for those who later developed CM-IRIS, controls who did not develop CM-IRIS (Control-Baseline) at CM-IRIS (IRIS-Event), and for controls at a time point matched for ART duration (Control-Event) to understand the association of monocyte distribution and immune responses with cryptococcal IRIS. At baseline, stimulation with IFN-γ ex vivo induced a higher frequency of TNF-α- and IL-6-producing monocytes among those who later developed IRIS. Among participants who developed IRIS, ex vivo IFN-γ stimulation induced higher frequencies of activated monocytes, IL-6⁺, TNF-α⁺ classical, and IL-6⁺ intermediate monocytes compared with controls. In conclusion, we have demonstrated that monocyte subset phenotype and cytokine responses prior to ART are associated with and may be predictive of CM-IRIS. Larger studies to further delineate innate immunological responses and the efficacy of immunomodulatory therapies during cryptococcal IRIS are warranted.
Keywords: Cryptococcus; HIV; IRIS; cryptococcal meningitis; innate immune response; monocytes.