Candida esophagitis belongs to the most common AIDS-defining diseases, however, a comprehensive immune pathogenic concept is lacking.
We investigated the immune status of 37 HIV-1-infected patients from the Swiss HIV cohort study at diagnosis of Candida esophagitis, 1 year before, 1 year later and after 2 years of suppressed HIV RNA. We compared these patients to 3 groups: 37 HIV-1-infected patients without Candida esophagitis but similar CD4 counts as the patients at diagnosis (advanced HIV group), 15 HIV-1-infected patients with CD4 counts >500 cells/μl, CD4 nadir >350 cells/μl and suppressed HIV RNA under combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) (early cART group), and 20 healthy individuals.
We investigated phenotype, cytokine production and proliferative capacity of different immune cells by flow cytometry and ELISpot.
We found that patients with Candida esophagitis had nearly abolished CD4 proliferation in response to C. albicans, significantly increased percentages of dysfunctional CD4 cells, significantly decreased cytotoxic NK-cell counts and peripheral innate lymphoid cells and significantly reduced IFN-γ and IL-17 production compared to the early cART group and healthy individuals. Most of these defects remained for more than 2 years despite viral suppression. The advanced HIV group without opportunistic infection showed partly improved immune recovery.
Our data indicate that Candida esophagitis in HIV-1-infected patients is caused by an accumulation of multiple, partly Candida-specific immunological defects. Long-term immune recovery is impaired, illustrating that specific immunological gaps persist despite cART. These data also support the rationale for early cART initiation to prevent irreversible immune defects.