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Background: It is recommended that HIV-infected individuals receive annual influenza vaccination due to their high susceptibility to influenza infection, especially among women. However, there have been few studies investigating sex-related responses to influenza vaccine in antiretroviral therapy (ART)-treated HIV-infected individuals.

Method: In this study, 26 aviremic ART-treated HIV-infected individuals and 16 healthy controls were enrolled in the current study. Blood was collected prior to vaccination (D0), on days 7-10 (D7) and on days 14-21 (D14) following administration of the 2013-2014 seasonal influenza vaccine. A series of analyses evaluated the serological and cellular responses following influenza vaccination.

Results: Female HIV-infected individuals had increased influenza-specific antibody avidity relative to male HIV-infected individuals, but similar plasma levels of influenza-specific binding antibodies and neutralizing antibodies. Increased cycling B cells and follicular helper CD4 T (Tfh) cells were observed in female HIV-infected individuals pre and postvaccination compared with male HIV-infected individuals, and cycling Tfh cells were directly correlated with influenza-specific antibody avidity. Moreover, plasma testosterone levels were inversely correlated with antibody avidity index. The magnitude of microbial translocation [plasma lipopolysaccharide (LPS)] level was directly correlated with influenza-specific antibody avidity. Circulating 16S rDNA microbiome showed that enrichment of specific species within Proteobacteria was associated with influenza-specific antibody avidity. These results, including differences based on sex and correlations, were only observed in HIV-infected individuals but not in the healthy controls.

Conclusion: This study demonstrated sex differences in influenza-specific antibody avidity in ART-treated HIV disease, and provides valuable information on vaccination strategy in the ART-treated HIV-infected population.

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