Persons who inject drugs (PWID) retain functional NK cells, dendritic cell stimulation, and adaptive immune recall responses despite prolonged opioid use

J Leukoc Biol. 2020 Dec 2;10.1002/JLB.5A0920-604R. doi: 10.1002/JLB.5A0920-604R. Online ahead of print.


Previous literature suggests that acute opioid use results in the functional impairment of the immune response, thereby decreasing resistance to viral infection. Here, we assessed if innate and adaptive immune responses are compromised ex vivo in persons who inject drugs (PWID) and whether long-term injection drug use may impact host susceptibility to in vitro HIV infection. We measured the frequency, activation state, and functional profile of NK cells, dendritic cells, and CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in low-risk PWID who do not share needles, high-risk needle-sharing PWID, and control donors who did not inject drugs. We also assessed plasma levels of inflammatory markers and CD4+ T cell susceptibility to HIV infection. We observed a significant increase in the amount of sCD14 (P = 0.0023, n = 16) and sCD163 (P = 0.0001, n = 16) in the plasma of PWID compared to controls. Evidence of constitutive activation was noted in PWID as compared to controls with increased CD69 expression in CD56dim NK cells (P = 0.0103, n = 26) and increased CD38 and HLA-DR expression in CD4+ T cells (P = 0.0355, n = 23). However, no innate or adaptive functional differences were detected between PWID and controls, including: NK cell direct or antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity poly-functional response, TLR-stimulated dendritic cell/NK crosstalk, CD8+ T cell response to Staphylococcal enterotoxin B or CMV/EBV/FLU peptides, or constitutive or anti-CD3/CD28-stimulated CD4+ T cell infectivity with CCR5-tropic or CXCR4-tropic HIV-1 isolates. Our data indicate that PWID who utilize opioids over as prolonged time frame can retain a functional ex vivo immune response without a measurable increase in CD4+ T cell infectivity suggesting that leukocytes from PWID are not intrinsically more susceptibility to infection with HIV than non-PWID controls.

Keywords: HIV; HIV infection; activation; memory response; opioids; people who inject drugs (PWID).