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Research Article

Immunologic tolerance in lymphatic filariasis. Diminished parasite-specific T and B lymphocyte precursor frequency in the microfilaremic state.

C L King, V Kumaraswami, R W Poindexter, S Kumari, K Jayaraman, D W Alling, E A Ottesen and T B Nutman

Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.

Published May 1992

To explore the mechanisms of antigen-specific immune unresponsiveness seen in microfilaremic patients with bancroftian filariasis, T and B cell precursor frequency analysis was performed using PBMC from individuals with either asymptomatic microfilaremia (MF, n = 7) or chronic lymphatic obstruction (CP, n = 20). Highly purified CD3+ cells were partially reconstituted with adherent cells and their proliferative response to parasite antigens determined in cultures of T cells by limiting dilution analysis. A filter immunoplaque assay also assessed the frequency of both total and parasite-specific Ig-producing B cells. While the lymphocyte proliferation to mitogens and to a nonparasite antigen (Streptolysin-O, [SLO]) were similar in all groups of patients, the frequency of parasite-specific CD3+ T cells was significantly lower (geometric mean [GM], 1/3,757) in MF patients when compared to that in CP patients (GM 1/1,513; P less than 0.001). Similarly, the proportion of lymphocytes producing parasite-specific IgE or IgG was significantly lower in MF patients (IgE mean, 0.2%; IgG mean, 0.33%) compared with CP patients (IgE mean, 3.2%; IgG mean, 1.76%; P less than 0.05 for both comparisons). These observations imply that low numbers of parasite-specific T and B lymphocytes may be partially responsible for the severely diminished capacity of lymphocytes from patients with MF to produce parasite-specific antibody and to proliferate to parasite antigen in vitro. Such differences in parasite-specific lymphocyte responses suggest that tolerance by clonal anergy may be a critical mechanism for maintaining the microfilaremic state.

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