Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) infection causes acute febrile illness in humans, and some of these individuals develop a debilitating chronic arthritis that can persist for months to years for reasons that remain poorly understood. In this study from India, we characterized antibody response patterns in febrile chikungunya patients and further assessed the association of these initial febrile-phase antibody response patterns with protection versus progression to developing chronic arthritis. We found 5 distinct patterns of the antibody responses in the febrile phase: no CHIKV binding or neutralizing (NT) antibodies but PCR positive, IgM alone with no NT activity, IgM alone with NT activity, IgM and IgG without NT activity, and IgM and IgG with NT activity. A 20-month follow-up showed that appearance of NT activity regardless of antibody isotype or appearance of IgG regardless of NT activity during the initial febrile phase was associated with a robust protection against developing chronic arthritis in the future. These findings, while providing potentially novel insights on correlates of protective immunity against chikungunya-induced chronic arthritis, suggest that qualitative differences in the antibody response patterns that have evolved during the febrile phase can serve as biomarkers that allow prediction of protection or progression to chronic arthritis in the future.
Keywords: B cells; Immunology; Infectious disease.