We previously showed that newborns congenitally infected with Trypanosoma cruzi (M+B+) display a strong type 1 parasite-specific T cell immune response, whereas uninfected newborns from T. cruzi-infected mothers (M+B−) are prone to produce higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines than control neonates (M−B−). The purpose of the present study was to determine if such fetal/neonatal immunological environments could alter the response to standard vaccines administered in early life.
Infants (6–7 months old) living in Bolivia, an area highly endemic for T. cruzi infection, and having received Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG), hepatitis B virus (HBV), diphtheria and tetanus vaccines, were enrolled into the M+B+, M+B−, M−B− groups mentioned above. The production of IFN-γ and IL-13, as markers of Th1 and Th2 responses respectively, by peripherical blood mononuclear cells stimulated with tuberculin purified protein derivative of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (PPD) or the vaccinal antigens HBs, diphtheria toxoid (DT) or tetanus toxoid (TT), as well as circulating levels of IgG antibodies against HBsAg, DT and TT were analyzed in infants. Cellular responses to the superantigen SEB were also monitored in M+B+, M+B−, M−B−infants and newborns.
M+B+ infants developed a stronger IFN-γ response to hepatitis B, diphtheria and tetanus vaccines than did M+B− and M−B− groups. They also displayed an enhanced antibody production to HBsAg. This was associated with a type 1-biased immune environment at birth, since cells of M+B+ newborns produced higher IFN-γ levels in response to SEB. M+B− infants produced more IFN-γ in response to PPD than the other groups. IL-13 production remained low and similar in all the three groups, whatever the subject's ages or vaccine status.
These results show that: i) both maternal infection with T. cruzi and congenital Chagas disease do not interfere with responses to BCG, hepatitis B, diphtheria and tetanus vaccines in the neonatal period, and ii) the overcoming of immunological immaturity by T. cruzi infection in early life is not limited to the development of parasite-specific immune responses, but also tends to favour type 1 immune responses to vaccinal antigens.
Vaccines are of crucial importance to prevent morbidity and mortality due to infectious diseases in childhood. A modulation of the fetal/neonatal immune system (considered immature) toward Th1 or Th2 dominance could modify responses to vaccines administered in early life. T. cruzi is the agent of Chagas' disease, in Latin America currently infecting about 2 million women at fertile ages who are susceptible to transmitting the parasite to their fetus. In previous studies we showed that T. cruzi-infected mothers can induce a pro-inflammatory environment in their uninfected neonates (M+B−), whereas congenitally infected newborns (M+B+) are able to develop a pro-Th1 parasite-specific T cell response. In the present study, we analysed the cellular and/or antibody responses to Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG), hepatitis B birus (HBV), diphtheria and tetanus vaccines in 6- to 7-month-old infants living in Bolivia. M+B− infants produced more IFN-γ in response to BCG, whereas M+B+ infants developed a stronger IFN-γ response to hepatitis B, diphtheria and tetanus vaccines and enhanced antibody production to HBs antigen. These results show that both maternal infection with T. cruzi and congenital Chagas disease do not interfere with responses to BCG, hepatitis B, diphtheria and tetanus vaccines in the neonatal period and that T. cruzi infection in early life tends to favour type 1 immune responses to vaccinal antigens.