Determinants of the acquisition and maintenance of maternal microchimerism (MMc) during infancy and the impact of MMc on infant immune responses are unknown. We examined factors that influence MMc detection and level across infancy and the effect of MMc on T cell responses to bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination in a cohort of HIV-exposed, uninfected and HIV-unexposed infants in South Africa. MMc was measured in whole blood from 58 infants using a panel of quantitative PCR assays at day 1, and 7, 15, and 36 weeks of life. Infants received BCG at birth, and selected whole blood samples from infancy were stimulated in vitro with BCG and assessed for polyfunctional CD4+ T cell responses. MMc was present in most infants across infancy, with levels ranging from 0 to 1,193/100,000 genomic equivalents and was positively impacted by absence of maternal HIV, maternal and infant HLA compatibility, infant female sex, and exclusive breastfeeding. Initiation of maternal antiretroviral therapy prior to pregnancy partially restored MMc level in HIV-exposed, uninfected infants. Birth MMc was associated with an improved polyfunctional CD4+ T cell response to BCG. These data emphasize that both maternal and infant factors influence the level of MMc, which may subsequently affect infant T cell responses.
Christina Balle, Blair Armistead, Agano Kiravu, Xiaochang Song, Anna-Ursula Happel, Angela A. Hoffmann, Sami B. Kanaan, J. Lee Nelson, Clive M. Gray, Heather B. Jaspan, Whitney E. Harrington