• Antimicrobial resistance in patients with decompensated liver cirrhosis and bacterial infections in a tertiary center in Northern Germany.

      Hillert, Annika; Schultalbers, Marie; Tergast, Tammo L; Vonberg, Ralf-Peter; Rademacher, Jessica; Wedemeyer, Heiner; Cornberg, Markus; Ziesing, Stefan; Maasoumy, Benjamin; Höner Zu Siederdissen, Christoph; et al. (BMC, 2021-07-20)
      Background and aims: Bacterial infections are common in patients with decompensated liver cirrhosis and a leading cause of death. Reliable data on antibiotic resistance are required to initiate effective empiric therapy. We here aim to assess the antimicrobial resistance profile of bacteria among patients with liver cirrhosis and infection. Methods: Overall, 666 cirrhotic patients admitted to Hannover Medical School between January 2012 and April 2018 with ascites were assessed for bacterial infection. In case of infection, bacteria cultured from microbiological specimens of ascites, blood or urine were identified and analyzed for resistances against common antibiotic agents. Furthermore, analyses compared two periods of time and community-acquired vs. nosocomial infections. Results: In 281 patients with infection, microbiological sampling was performed and culture-positive results were obtained in 56.9%. Multidrug-resistant (MDR)-bacteria were found in 54 patients (19.2%). Gram-positive organisms were more common (n = 141/261, 54.0%) and detected in 116/192 culture-positive infections (60.4%). Comparing infections before and after 2015, a numerical decline for MDR-bacteria (23.8% vs. 15.6%, p = 0.08) was observed with a significant decline in meropenem resistance (34.9% vs. 19.5%, p = 0.03). MDR-bacteria were more frequent in the case of nosocomial infections. Of note, in ascites the majority of the tested bacteria were resistant against ceftriaxone (73.8%) whereas significantly less were resistant against meropenem (27.0%) and vancomycin (25.9%). Conclusions: In our tertiary center, distinct ratios of gram-positive infection with overall low ratios of MDR-bacteria were found. Adequate gram-positive coverage in the empiric therapy should be considered. Carbapenem treatment may be omitted even in nosocomial infection. In contrast, 3rd generation cephalosporins cannot be recommended even in community-acquired infection in our cirrhotic population.
    • BCG Vaccination in Humans Elicits Trained Immunity via the Hematopoietic Progenitor Compartment.

      Cirovic, Branko; de Bree, L Charlotte J; Groh, Laszlo; Blok, Bas A; Chan, Joyce; van der Velden, Walter J F M; Bremmers, M E J; van Crevel, Reinout; Händler, Kristian; Picelli, Simone; et al. (Elsevier (Cell Press), 2020-06-09)
      Induction of trained immunity by Bacille-Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination mediates beneficial heterologous effects, but the mechanisms underlying its persistence and magnitude remain elusive. In this study, we show that BCG vaccination in healthy human volunteers induces a persistent transcriptional program connected to myeloid cell development and function within the hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell (HSPC) compartment in the bone marrow. We identify hepatic nuclear factor (HNF) family members 1a and b as crucial regulators of this transcriptional shift. These findings are corroborated by higher granulocyte numbers in BCG-vaccinated infants, HNF1 SNP variants that correlate with trained immunity, and elevated serum concentrations of the HNF1 target alpha-1 antitrypsin. Additionally, transcriptomic HSPC remodeling was epigenetically conveyed to peripheral CD14+ monocytes, displaying an activated transcriptional signature three months after BCG vaccination. Taken together, transcriptomic, epigenomic, and functional reprogramming of HSPCs and peripheral monocytes is a hallmark of BCG-induced trained immunity in humans.
    • Case Report: Convalescent Plasma Therapy Induced Anti-SARS-CoV-2 T Cell Expansion, NK Cell Maturation and Virus Clearance in a B Cell Deficient Patient After CD19 CAR T Cell Therapy.

      Bošnjak, Berislav; Odak, Ivan; Ritter, Christiane; Stahl, Klaus; Graalmann, Theresa; Steinbrück, Lars; Blasczyk, Rainer; Falk, Christine S; Schulz, Thomas F; Wedemeyer, Hans Heinrich; et al. (Frontiers, 2021-08-12)
      Here, we described the case of a B cell-deficient patient after CD19 CAR-T cell therapy for refractory B cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma with protracted coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). For weeks, this patient only inefficiently contained the virus while convalescent plasma transfusion correlated with virus clearance. Interestingly, following convalescent plasma therapy natural killer cells matured and virus-specific T cells expanded, presumably allowing virus clearance and recovery from the disease. Our findings, thus, suggest that convalescent plasma therapy can activate cellular immune responses to clear SARS-CoV-2 infections. If confirmed in larger clinical studies, these data could be of general importance for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
    • Cellular and humoral immunogenicity of a SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine in patients on haemodialysis.

      Strengert, Monika; Becker, Matthias; Ramos, Gema Morillas; Dulovic, Alex; Gruber, Jens; Juengling, Jennifer; Lürken, Karsten; Beigel, Andrea; Wrenger, Eike; Lonnemann, Gerhard; et al. (Elsevier, 2021-08-12)
      Background: Patients with chronic renal insufficiency on maintenance haemodialysis face an increased risk of COVID-19 induced mortality and impaired vaccine responses. To date, only a few studies have addressed SARS-CoV-2 vaccine elicited immunity in this immunocompromised population. Methods: We assessed immunogenicity of the mRNA vaccine BNT162b2 in at-risk dialysis patients and characterised systemic cellular and humoral immune responses in serum and saliva using interferon γ release assay and multiplex-based cytokine and immunoglobulin measurements. We further compared binding capacity and neutralization efficacy of vaccination-induced immunoglobulins against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants Alpha, Beta, Epsilon and Cluster 5 by ACE2-RBD competition assay. Findings: Patients on maintenance haemodialysis exhibit detectable but variable cellular and humoral immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 and variants of concern after a two-dose regimen of BNT162b2. Although vaccination-induced immunoglobulins were detectable in saliva and plasma, both anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG and neutralization efficacy was reduced compared to a vaccinated non-dialysed control population. Similarly, T-cell mediated interferon γ release after stimulation with SARS-CoV-2 spike peptides was significantly diminished. Interpretation: Quantifiable humoral and cellular immune responses after BNT162b2 vaccination in individuals on maintenance haemodialysis are encouraging, but urge for longitudinal follow-up to assess longevity of immunity. Diminished virus neutralization and interferon γ responses in the face of emerging variants of concern may favour this at-risk population for re-vaccination using modified vaccines at the earliest opportunity. Funding: Initiative and Networking Fund of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, State Ministry of Baden-Württemberg for Economic Affairs, Labour and Tourism.
    • Cerebrospinal fluid IL-1β is elevated in tuberculous meningitis patients but not associated with mortality.

      Koeken, Valerie A C M; Ganiem, Ahmad R; Dian, Sofiati; Ruslami, Rovina; Chaidir, Lidya; Netea, Mihai G; Kumar, Vinod; Alisjahbana, Bachti; van Crevel, Reinout; van Laarhoven, Arjan; et al. (Elsevier, 2020-07-30)
      Background & aims: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a cancer with multiple aetiologies and widespread prevalence. Largely refractory to current treatments, HCC is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important regulators in HCCs. We aimed to identify tumour suppressor miRNAs during tumour regression in a conditional c-MYC-driven mouse model (LT2/MYC) of HCC, and to evaluate their therapeutic potential for HCC treatment. Methods: We performed miRNA expression profiling of developed and regressing LT2/MYC tumours and in-depth in vitro gain- and loss-of-function analyses. The effect of adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector-mediated miR-342-3p treatment was evaluated in 3 HCC mouse models. Results: We identified miR-342-3p as a tumour suppressor miRNA in HCC, with increased expression in regressing tumours. Forced miR-342-3p expression in hepatoma cells showed significantly decreased cell proliferation, migration, and colony formation. In vivo administration of AAV-miR-342-3p led to significant attenuation of tumour development and increased overall survival. We identified monocarboxylic acid transporter 1 (MCT1) as a bona fide target of miR-342-3p in HCC. We show that the tumour suppressor role of miR-342-3p is executed partly by modulating the lactate transport function of MCT1. Importantly, we find miR-342-3p downregulated in tumours from patients with HCC compared with matched non-tumour tissues, inversely correlating with MCT1 expression. We observed similar findings in TCGA-LIHC data. Conclusions: In our study, we identified and validated miR-342-3p as a tumour suppressor miRNA in HCC. We demonstrated its therapeutic efficacy in significantly attenuating tumour development, and prolonging survival, in different HCC mouse models. Identification of miR-342-3p as an effective tumour suppressor opens a therapeutic avenue for miRNA-mediated attenuation of HCC development. Lay summary: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer, affects diverse populations and has a global impact, being the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. There are currently no systemic therapies for HCC that can significantly prolong long-term survival. Thus, novel effective treatment options are urgently required. To understand the molecular basis of tumour regression, we compared tumours and regressing liver tumours in mice. We show that a small non-coding miRNA, miR-342-3p, is a tumour suppressor in HCC. Expression of miR-342-3p is low in tumours and high in regressing tumours. When miR-342-3p is delivered to mouse livers with HCC, it can significantly slow down liver tumour development and improve survival. Our study highlights the promising therapeutic potential of miR-342-3p intervention in HCC.
    • Comparative host transcriptome in response to pathogenic fungi identifies common and species-specific transcriptional antifungal host response pathways.

      Bruno, Mariolina; Dewi, Intan M W; Matzaraki, Vicky; Ter Horst, Rob; Pekmezovic, Marina; Rösler, Berenice; Groh, Laszlo; Röring, Rutger J; Kumar, Vinod; Li, Yang; et al. (Elsevier, 2020-12-26)
      Candidiasis, aspergillosis, and mucormycosis cause the majority of nosocomial fungal infections in immunocompromised patients. Using an unbiased transcriptional profiling in PBMCs exposed to the fungal species causing these infections, we found a core host response in healthy individuals that may govern effective fungal clearance: it consists of 156 transcripts, involving canonical and non-canonical immune pathways. Systematic investigation of key steps in antifungal host defense revealed fungal-specific signatures. As previously demonstrated, Candida albicans induced type I and Type II interferon-related pathways. In contrast, central pattern recognition receptor, reactive oxygen species production, and host glycolytic pathways were down-regulated in response to Rhizopus oryzae, which was associated with an ER-stress response. TLR5 was identified to be uniquely regulated by Aspergillus fumigatus and to control cytokine release in response to this fungus. In conclusion, our data reveals the transcriptional profiles induced by C. albicans, A. fumigatus, and R. oryzae, and describes both the common and specific antifungal host responses that could be exploited for novel therapeutic strategies.
    • Controlling inflammation in the elderly with BCG vaccination.

      Koeken, Valerie A C M; CiiM, Zentrum für individualisierte Infektionsmedizin, Feodor-Lynen-Str.7, 30625 Hannover. (AAAS, 2021-08-04)
      The tuberculosis vaccine BCG may protect against inflammation in the elderly as well as offer an option for protection from SARS-CoV-2 in developing countries.
    • COVID-19 immune signatures reveal stable antiviral T cell function despite declining humoral responses.

      Bonifacius, Agnes; Tischer-Zimmermann, Sabine; Dragon, Anna C; Gussarow, Daniel; Vogel, Alexander; Krettek, Ulrike; Gödecke, Nina; Yilmaz, Mustafa; Kraft, Anke R M; Hoeper, Marius M; et al.
      Cellular and humoral immunity to SARS-CoV-2 is critical to control primary infection and correlates with severity of disease. The role of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell immunity, its relationship to antibodies, and pre-existing immunity against endemic coronaviruses (huCoV), which has been hypothesized to be protective, were investigated in 82 healthy donors (HDs), 204 recovered (RCs), and 92 active COVID-19 patients (ACs). ACs had high amounts of anti-SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid and spike IgG but lymphopenia and overall reduced antiviral T cell responses due to the inflammatory milieu, expression of inhibitory molecules (PD-1, Tim-3) as well as effector caspase-3, -7, and -8 activity in T cells. SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell immunity conferred by polyfunctional, mainly interferon-γ-secreting CD4+ T cells remained stable throughout convalescence, whereas humoral responses declined. Immune responses toward huCoV in RCs with mild disease and strong cellular SARS-CoV-2 T cell reactivity imply a protective role of pre-existing immunity against huCoV.
    • Different rates of pollen and seed gene flow cause branch-length and geographic cytonuclear discordance within Asian butternuts.

      Xu, Lin-Lin; Yu, Rui-Min; Lin, Xin-Rui; Zhang, Bo-Wen; Li, Nan; Lin, Kui; Zhang, Da-Yong; Bai, Wei-Ning; CiiM, Zentrum für individualisierte Infektionsmedizin, Feodor-Lynen-Str.7, 30625 Hannover. (Wiley, 2021-07-13)
      opological cytonuclear discordance is commonly observed in plant phylogenetic and phylogeographic studies, yet few studies have attempted to detect two other forms of cytonuclear discordance (branch length and geographical) and to uncover the causes of the discordance. We used the whole nuclear and chloroplast genome data from 80 individual Asian butternuts to reveal the pattern and processes of cytonuclear discordance. Our findings indicate that the chloroplast genome had substantially deeper divergence (branch-length discordance) and a steeper cline in the contact zone (geographic discordance) compared with the nuclear genome. After various hypothesis have been tested, the results suggest that incomplete lineage sorting, positive selection and cytonuclear incompatibility are probably insufficient to explain this pattern. However, isolation-by-distance analysis and gene flow estimation point to a much higher level of gene flow by pollen compared with by seeds, which may have slowed down lineage divergence and mediated wider contact for nuclear genome compared with the chloroplast genome. Altogether, this study highlights a critical role of sex-biased dispersal in causing discordance between the nuclear and plastid genome of Asian butternuts. Given its ubiquity among plants, asymmetric gene flow should be given a high priority in future studies of cytonuclear discordance.
    • Distinct Immune Imprints of Post-Liver Transplantation Hepatitis C Persist Despite Viral Clearance.

      Aregay, Amare; Engel, Bastian; Port, Kerstin; Vondran, Florian W R; Bremer, Birgit; Niehaus, Christian; Khera, Tanvi; Richter, Nicolas; Jaeckel, Elmar; Cornberg, Markus; et al. (Wiley, 2021-02-28)
      Recurrence or de novo infection of hepatitis C virus (HCV) after liver transplantation (LT) has been associated with progressive graft hepatitis that can be improved by treatment with novel direct-acting antivirals. Cases of rejection episodes have been described during and after HCV treatment. The evolution of innate and adaptive immune response during and after cure of HCV LT is unknown. We studied 74 protein biomarkers in the plasma of LT patients receiving antiviral therapy. In addition, deep immune phenotyping of both the myeloid and lymphoid immune cell subsets in peripheral blood mononuclear cells was performed. We found that LT patients with active HCV infection displayed distinct alterations of inflammatory protein biomarkers, such as C-X-Cmotif chemokine 10 (CXCL10), caspase 8, C-C motif chemokine 20 (CCL20), CCL19, interferon γ, CUB domain-containing protein 1 (CDCP1), interleukin (IL)-18R1, CXCL11, CCL3, IL8, IL12B, tumor necrosis factor-beta, CXCL6, osteoprotegerin, IL10, fms-related tyrosine kinase 3 ligand, hepatocyte growth factor, urokinase-type plasminogen activator, neurotrophin-3, CCL4, IL6, tumornecrosis factor receptor superfamily member 9, programmed death ligand 1, IL18, and monocyte chemotactic protein 1, and enrichment of peripheral immune cell subsets unlike patients without HCV infection who received transplants. Interestingly, patients who cleared HCV after LT did not normalize the altered inflammatory milieu nor did the peripheral immune cell subsets normalize to what would be seen in the absence of HCV recurrence. Overall, these data indicate that HCV-specific imprints on inflammatory analytes and immune cell subsets after LT are not completely normalized by therapy-induced HCV elimination. This is in line with the clinical observation that cure of HCV after LT did not trigger rejection episodes in many patients.
    • EASL position paper on the use of COVID-19 vaccines in patients with chronic liver diseases, hepatobiliary cancer and liver transplant recipients.

      Cornberg, Markus; Buti, Maria; Eberhardt, Christiane S; Grossi, Paolo Antonio; Shouval, Daniel; CiiM, Zentrum für individualisierte Infektionsmedizin, Feodor-Lynen-Str.7, 30625 Hannover. (Elsevier, 2021-02-06)
      According to a recent World Health Organization estimate, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, which originated in China in 2019, has spread globally, infecting nearly 100 million people worldwide by January 2021. Patients with chronic liver diseases (CLD), particularly cirrhosis, hepatobiliary malignancies, candidates for liver transplantation, and immunosuppressed individuals after liver transplantation appear to be at increased risk of infections in general, which in turn translates into increased mortality. This is also the case for SARS-CoV-2 infection, where patients with cirrhosis, in particular, are at high risk of a severe COVID-19 course. Therefore, vaccination against various pathogens including SARS-CoV-2, administered as early as possible in patients with CLD, is an important protective measure. However, due to impaired immune responses in these patients, the immediate and long-term protective response through immunisation may be incomplete. The current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has led to the exceptionally fast development of several vaccine candidates. A small number of these SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates have already undergone phase III, placebo-controlled, clinical trials in healthy individuals with proof of short-term safety, immunogenicity and efficacy. However, although regulatory agencies in the US and Europe have already approved some of these vaccines for clinical use, information on immunogenicity, duration of protection and long-term safety in patients with CLD, cirrhosis, hepatobiliary cancer and liver transplant recipients has yet to be generated. This review summarises the data on vaccine safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy in this patient population in general and discusses the implications of this knowledge on the introduction of the new SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.
    • Epigenome-wide association study identifies DNA methylation markers for asthma remission in whole blood and nasal epithelium.

      Qi, Cancan; Vonk, Judith M; van der Plaat, Diana A; Nieuwenhuis, Maartje A E; Dijk, F Nicole; Aïssi, Dylan; Siroux, Valérie; Boezen, H Marike; Xu, Cheng-Jian; Koppelman, Gerard H; et al. (BMC, 2020-12-11)
      Background: Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease which is not curable, yet some patients experience spontaneous remission. We hypothesized that epigenetic mechanisms may be involved in asthma remission. Methods: Clinical remission (ClinR) was defined as the absence of asthma symptoms and medication for at least 12 months, and complete remission (ComR) was defined as ClinR with normal lung function and absence of airway hyperresponsiveness. We analyzed differential DNA methylation of ClinR and ComR comparing to persistent asthma (PersA) in whole blood samples (n = 72) and nasal brushing samples (n = 97) in a longitudinal cohort of well characterized asthma patients. Significant findings of whole blood DNA methylation were tested for replication in two independent cohorts, Lifelines and Epidemiological study on the Genetics and Environment of Asthma (EGEA). Results: We identified differentially methylated CpG sites associated with ClinR (7 CpG sites) and ComR (129 CpG sites) in whole blood. One CpG (cg13378519, Chr1) associated with ClinR was replicated and annotated to PEX11 (Peroxisomal Biogenesis Factor 11 Beta). The whole blood DNA methylation levels of this CpG were also different between ClinR and healthy subjects. One ComR-associated CpG (cg24788483, Chr10) that annotated to TCF7L2 (Transcription Factor 7 Like 2) was replicated and associated with expression of TCF7L2 gene. One out of seven ClinR-associated CpG sites and 8 out of 129 ComR-associated CpG sites identified from whole blood samples showed nominal significance (P < 0.05) and the same direction of effect in nasal brushes. Conclusion: We identified DNA methylation markers possibly associated with clinical and complete asthma remission in nasal brushes and whole blood, and two CpG sites identified from whole blood can be replicated in independent cohorts and may play a role in peroxisome proliferation and Wnt signaling pathway.
    • Evolution of cytokine production capacity in ancient and modern European populations.

      Domínguez-Andrés, Jorge; Kuijpers, Yunus; Bakker, Olivier B; Jaeger, Martin; Xu, Cheng-Jian; Van der Meer, Jos Wm; Jakobsson, Mattias; Bertranpetit, Jaume; Joosten, Leo Ab; Li, Yang; et al. (eLife Sciences Publications, 2021-09-07)
      As our ancestors migrated throughout different continents, natural selection increased the presence of alleles advantageous in the new environments. Heritable variations that alter the susceptibility to diseases vary with the historical period, the virulence of the infections, and their geographical spread. In this study we built polygenic scores for heritable traits that influence the genetic adaptation in the production of cytokines and immune-mediated disorders, including infectious, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases, and applied them to the genomes of several ancient European populations. We observed that the advent of the Neolithic was a turning point for immune-mediated traits in Europeans, favoring those alleles linked with the development of tolerance against intracellular pathogens and promoting inflammatory responses against extracellular microbes. These evolutionary patterns are also associated with an increased presence of traits related to inflammatory and auto-immune diseases.
    • Glutathione Metabolism Contributes to the Induction of Trained Immunity.

      Ferreira, Anaisa V; Koeken, Valerie A C M; Matzaraki, Vasiliki; Kostidis, Sarantos; Alarcon-Barrera, Juan Carlos; de Bree, L Charlotte J; Moorlag, Simone J C F M; Mourits, Vera P; Novakovic, Boris; Giera, Martin A; et al. (MDPI, 2021-04-21)
      The innate immune system displays heterologous memory characteristics, which are characterized by stronger responses to a secondary challenge. This phenomenon termed trained immunity relies on epigenetic and metabolic rewiring of innate immune cells. As reactive oxygen species (ROS) production has been associated with the trained immunity phenotype, we hypothesized that the increased ROS levels and the main intracellular redox molecule glutathione play a role in the induction of trained immunity. Here we show that pharmacological inhibition of ROS in an in vitro model of trained immunity did not influence cell responsiveness; the modulation of glutathione levels reduced pro-inflammatory cytokine production in human monocytes. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in genes involved in glutathione metabolism were found to be associated with changes in pro-inflammatory cytokine production capacity upon trained immunity. Also, plasma glutathione concentrations were positively associated with ex vivo IL-1β production, a biomarker of trained immunity, produced by monocytes of BCG-vaccinated individuals. In conclusion, glutathione metabolism is involved in the induction of trained immunity, and future studies are warranted to explore its functional consequences in human diseases.
    • HBV-RNA Co-amplification May Influence HBV DNA Viral Load Determination.

      Maasoumy, Benjamin; Geretti, Anna Maria; Frontzek, André; Austin, Harrison; Aretzweiler, Gudrun; Garcia-Álvarez, Monica; Leuchter, Susanne; Simon, Christian O; Marins, Ed G; Canchola, Jesse A; et al. (Wiley, 2020-05-26)
      Despite effective hepatitis B virus (HBV)-DNA suppression, HBV RNA can circulate in patients receiving nucleoside/nucleotide analogues (NAs). Current assays quantify HBV DNA by either real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which uses DNA polymerase, or transcription-mediated amplification, which uses reverse-transcriptase (RT) and RNA polymerase. We assessed the effect of RT capability on HBV-DNA quantification in samples from three cohorts, including patients with quantified HBV RNA. We compared the HBV-DNA levels by real-time PCR (cobas HBV, Roche 6800/8800; Xpert HBV, Cepheid), transcription-mediated amplification (Aptima HBV, Hologic), and real-time PCR with added RT capability (cobas HBV+RT). In the first cohort (n = 45) followed over 192 weeks of NA therapy, on-treatment HBV-DNA levels were higher with cobas HBV+RT than cobas HBV (mean difference: 0.14 log10 IU/mL). In a second cohort (n = 50) followed over 96 weeks of NA therapy, HBV-DNA viral load was significantly higher with the cobas HBV+RT and Aptima HBV compared with the cobas HBV test at all time points after initiation of NA therapy (mean difference: 0.65-1.16 log10 IU/mL). A clinically significant difference was not detected between the assays at baseline. In a third cohort (n = 53), after a median of 2.2 years of NA therapy, we detected HBV RNA (median 5.6 log10 copies/mL) in 23 patients (43.4%). Median HBV-DNA levels by Aptima HBV were 2.4 versus less than 1 log10 IU/mL in samples with HBV RNA and without HBV RNA, respectively (P = 0.0006). In treated patients with HBV RNA, Aptima HBV measured higher HBV-DNA levels than Xpert HBV and cobas HBV. Conclusion: Tests including an RT step may overestimate HBV DNA, particularly in samples with low viral loads as a result of NA therapy. This overestimation is likely due to amplification of HBV RNA and may have an impact on clinical decisions.
    • Host immune genetic variations influence the risk of developing acute myeloid leukaemia: results from the NuCLEAR consortium.

      Sánchez-Maldonado, J M; Campa, D; Springer, J; Badiola, J; Niazi, Y; Moñiz-Díez, A; Hernández-Mohedo, F; González-Sierra, P; Ter Horst, R; Macauda, A; et al. (Springer Nature, 2020-07-16)
      The purpose of this study was to conduct a two-stage case control association study including 654 acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) patients and 3477 controls ascertained through the NuCLEAR consortium to evaluate the effect of 27 immune-related single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on AML risk. In a pooled analysis of cohort studies, we found that carriers of the IL13rs1295686A/A genotype had an increased risk of AML (PCorr = 0.0144) whereas carriers of the VEGFArs25648T allele had a decreased risk of developing the disease (PCorr = 0.00086). In addition, we found an association of the IL8rs2227307 SNP with a decreased risk of developing AML that remained marginally significant after multiple testing (PCorr = 0.072). Functional experiments suggested that the effect of the IL13rs1295686 SNP on AML risk might be explained by its role in regulating IL1Ra secretion that modulates AML blast proliferation. Likewise, the protective effect of the IL8rs2227307 SNP might be mediated by TLR2-mediated immune responses that affect AML blast viability, proliferation and chemorresistance. Despite the potential interest of these results, additional functional studies are still warranted to unravel the mechanisms by which these variants modulate the risk of AML. These findings suggested that IL13, VEGFA and IL8 SNPs play a role in modulating AML risk.
    • Immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 variants after heterologous and homologous ChAdOx1 nCoV-19/BNT162b2 vaccination.

      Barros-Martins, Joana; Hammerschmidt, Swantje I; Cossmann, Anne; Odak, Ivan; Stankov, Metodi V; Morillas Ramos, Gema; Dopfer-Jablonka, Alexandra; Heidemann, Annika; Ritter, Christiane; Friedrichsen, Michaela; et al. (Nature, 2021-07-14)
      Currently approved viral vector-based and mRNA-based vaccine approaches against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) consider only homologous prime-boost vaccination. After reports of thromboembolic events, several European governments recommended using AstraZeneca's ChAdOx1-nCov-19 (ChAd) only in individuals older than 60 years, leaving millions of already ChAd-primed individuals with the decision to receive either a second shot of ChAd or a heterologous boost with mRNA-based vaccines. However, such combinations have not been tested so far. We used Hannover Medical School's COVID-19 Contact Study cohort of healthcare professionals to monitor ChAd-primed immune responses before and 3 weeks after booster with ChAd (n = 32) or BioNTech/Pfizer's BNT162b2 (n = 55). Although both vaccines boosted prime-induced immunity, BNT162b2 induced significantly higher frequencies of spike-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cells and, in particular, high titers of neutralizing antibodies against the B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P.1 variants of concern of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
    • The Immunological Factors Predisposing to Severe Covid-19 Are Already Present in Healthy Elderly and Men.

      Kilic, Gizem; Bulut, Ozlem; Jaeger, Martin; Ter Horst, Rob; Koeken, Valerie A C M; Moorlag, Simone J C F M; Mourits, Vera P; de Bree, Charlotte; Domínguez-Andrés, Jorge; Joosten, Leo A B; et al. (Frontiers, 2021-08-09)
      Male sex and old age are risk factors for COVID-19 severity, but the underlying causes are unknown. A possible explanation for this might be the differences in immunological profiles in males and the elderly before the infection. With this in mind, we analyzed the abundance of circulating proteins and immune populations associated with severe COVID-19 in 2 healthy cohorts. Besides, given the seasonal profile of COVID-19, the seasonal response against SARS-CoV-2 could also be different in the elderly and males. Therefore, PBMCs of female, male, young, and old subjects in different seasons of the year were stimulated with heat-inactivated SARS-CoV-2 to investigate the season-dependent anti-SARS-CoV-2 immune response. We found that several T cell subsets, which are known to be depleted in severe COVID-19 patients, were intrinsically less abundant in men and older individuals. Plasma proteins increasing with disease severity, including HGF, IL-8, and MCP-1, were more abundant in the elderly and males. Upon in vitro SARS-CoV-2 stimulation, the elderly produced significantly more IL-1RA and had a dysregulated IFNγ response with lower production in the fall compared with young individuals. Our results suggest that the immune characteristics of severe COVID-19, described by a differential abundance of immune cells and circulating inflammatory proteins, are intrinsically present in healthy men and the elderly. This might explain the susceptibility of men and the elderly to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
    • The impact of hepatitis B surface antigen on natural killer cells in patients with chronic hepatitis B virus infection.

      Du, Yanqin; Anastasiou, Olympia E; Strunz, Benedikt; Scheuten, Janina; Bremer, Birgit; Kraft, Anke; Kleinsimglinhaus, Karolina; Todt, Daniel; Broering, Ruth; Hardtke-Wolenski, Matthias; et al. (Wiley, 2021-04-01)
      Compared to the healthy controls, a reshaping of NK cell pool towards more CD56bright NK cells was observed during CHB infection. Importantly, NK cells in patients with low HBsAg levels (<100 IU/mL) displayed an activated phenotype with increased expression of activation makers CD38, granzyme B and proliferation marker Ki-67 while presenting with defective functional responses (MIP-1β, CD107a) at the same time. Furthermore, NK cell activation was negatively correlated with patient HBsAg levels while NK function correlated with patient age.
    • Integration of metabolomics, genomics, and immune phenotypes reveals the causal roles of metabolites in disease.

      Chu, Xiaojing; Jaeger, Martin; Beumer, Joep; Bakker, Olivier B; Aguirre-Gamboa, Raul; Oosting, Marije; Smeekens, Sanne P; Moorlag, Simone; Mourits, Vera P; Koeken, Valerie A C M; et al. (BMC, 2021-07-06)
      Background: Recent studies highlight the role of metabolites in immune diseases, but it remains unknown how much of this effect is driven by genetic and non-genetic host factors. Result: We systematically investigate circulating metabolites in a cohort of 500 healthy subjects (500FG) in whom immune function and activity are deeply measured and whose genetics are profiled. Our data reveal that several major metabolic pathways, including the alanine/glutamate pathway and the arachidonic acid pathway, have a strong impact on cytokine production in response to ex vivo stimulation. We also examine the genetic regulation of metabolites associated with immune phenotypes through genome-wide association analysis and identify 29 significant loci, including eight novel independent loci. Of these, one locus (rs174584-FADS2) associated with arachidonic acid metabolism is causally associated with Crohn's disease, suggesting it is a potential therapeutic target. Conclusion: This study provides a comprehensive map of the integration between the blood metabolome and immune phenotypes, reveals novel genetic factors that regulate blood metabolite concentrations, and proposes an integrative approach for identifying new disease treatment targets.