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Invasive aspergillosis (IA) remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in patients receiving allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). To date, no reliable immunological biomarkers for management and outcome of IA exist. Here, we investigated reconstitution of antifungal immunity in patients during the first 12 months after HSCT and correlated it with IA.
Fifty-one patients were included, 9 with probable/proven IA. We determined quantitative and qualitative reconstitution of polymorphonuclear (PMN), CD4, CD8, and natural killer (NK) cells against Aspergillus fumigatus over 5 time points and compared the values to healthy donors.
Absolute CD4 and CD8 cell counts, antigen-specific T-cell responses, and killing capacity of PMN against A. fumigatus were significantly decreased in all patients over 12 months. In patients with probable/proven IA, reactive oxygen species (ROS) production tended to be lower compared to patients without IA, and absolute NK-cell counts remained below 200 cells/µL. Patients with well-controlled IA showed significantly higher ROS production and NK-cell counts compared to patients with poor outcome.
This study highlights the importance of functional PMN, T-cell, and NK-cell immunity for the outcome of IA. Larger multicenter studies should address the potential use of NK-cell counts for the management of antifungal therapy.
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HSCT; NK-cell count as immunological marker; antifungal innate and adaptive immunity; immune reconstitution