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Distinct cellular immune signatures in acute Zika virus infection are associated withhigh or low persisting neutralizing antibody titers

By Elizabeth E. McCarthy, Pamela M. Odorizzi, Emma Lutz, Carolyn P. Smullin, Iliana Tenvooren, Mars Stone, Graham Simmons, Peter W Hunt, Margaret E Feeney, Philip J. Norris, Michael P. Busch, Matthew H. Spitzer, Rachel L. Rutishauser

Posted 28 May 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.05.27.446054

Although the formation of a durable neutralizing antibody response after an acute viral infection is a key component of protective immunity, little is known about why some individuals generate high versus low neutralizing antibody titers to infection or vaccination. Infection with Zika virus (ZIKV) during pregnancy can cause devastating fetal outcomes, and efforts to understand natural immunity to this infection are essential for optimizing vaccine design. In this study, we leveraged the high-dimensional single-cell profiling capacity of mass cytometry (CyTOF) to deeply characterize the cellular immune response to acute and convalescent ZIKV infection in a cohort of blood donors in Puerto Rico incidentally found to be viremic during the 2015-2016 epidemic in the Americas. During acute ZIKV infection, we identified widely coordinated responses across innate and adaptive immune cell lineages. High frequencies of multiple activated innate immune subsets, as well as activated follicular helper CD4+ T cells and proliferating CD27-IgD- B cells, during acute infection were associated with high titers of ZIKV neutralizing antibodies at 6 months post-infection. On the other hand, low titers of ZIKV neutralizing antibodies were associated with immune features that suggested a cytotoxic-skewed immune "set-point." Our study offers insight into the cellular coordination of immune responses and identifies candidate cellular biomarkers that may offer predictive value in vaccine efficacy trials for ZIKV and other acute viral infections aimed at inducing high titers of neutralizing antibodies.

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