Authors: Karim F, Gazy I, Cele S, Zungu Y, Krause R, Bernstein M, Ganga Y, Rodel H, Mthabela N, Mazibuko M, Khan K, Muema D, Ramjit D, Lustig G, Ndung'u T, Hanekom W, Gosnell BI, COMMIT-KZN Team, Wong E, de Oliveira T, Moosa MYS, Leslie A, KlÝverpris H, Sigal A
HIV infection alters the immune response and can compromise protective immunity to multiple pathogens following vaccination. We investigated the impact of HIV on the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 using longitudinal samples from 124 participants from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, an area of extremely high HIV prevalence. 44% of participants were people living with HIV (PLWH) and commonly had other co-morbidities, including obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. The majority of PLWH but not HIV negative participants showed CD8 T cell expansion above the normal range post-SARS-CoV-2. Yet, in participants with HIV suppressed by antiretroviral therapy (ART), CD8 expansion was associated with milder COVID-19 disease. There were multiple differences in T cell, B cell, and natural killer cell correlations in PLWH compared to HIV negative participants, including lower tissue homing CXCR3+ CD8 T cells in the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in PLWH but not HIV negative and a pronounced early antibody secreting cell (ASC) expansion in HIV negative but not PLWH. These changes were COVID-19 associated: low CXCR3 correlated with increased COVID-19 disease severity across groups, and high ASC correlated with increased disease severity in HIV negative participants and waned when SARS-CoV-2 was cleared. Despite the altered response of immune cell subsets, COVID-19 disease in PLWH was mostly mild and similar to HIV negative participants. This likely reflects the heterogeneity of an effective COVID-19 immune response. Whether the differences in immune cell dynamics in PLWH will lead to different long-term consequences or compromise vaccination is yet to be determined.