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Children may be the optimal target for HIV vaccine development as they generate substantially more frequent and more potent broadly HIV neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) than adults. Development of a biomarker that correlates with neutralization breadth in this group could function as a powerful tool to facilitate the development of an HIV vaccine. Previously, we observed that this preferential ability in HIV-infected children over adults to generate bnAbs is associated with an enrichment of circulating follicular helper T-cells (TFH) with an effector phenotype, and the presence of IL-21 secreting HIV-specific TFH within lymphoid tissue germinal centers (GC). In adults, bnAbs development has been linked with high plasma levels of CXCL13, a chemoattractant for CXCR5-expressing TFH cells to the lymph node GC. We sought to test this relationship in HIV-infected children, but found no association between neutralization breadth and plasma levels of CXCL13, or with the Th2 cytokines IL-4 and IL-13, or the TFH associated factor Activin A. However, we did find an unexpected association between plasma IL-5 levels and bnAb development in these children. Importantly, although CXCL13 correlated with total circulating TFH cells, it was not associated with effector TFH. Additionally, raised CXCL13 expression was associated with a lower CD4 percentage, higher viral load and a loss of immune function, implying it is associated with progressive disease rather than HIV-specific GC activity in these subjects. Taken together, our data suggests that IL-5 should be evaluated further as a candidate plasma biomarker for HIV neutralization breadth and for monitoring vaccine responses in the pediatric age group.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Immunol

Publication Date





Activin A, CXCL13, HIV neutralization breadth, IL-5, T-follicular helper cells (Tfh), broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs), pediatric HIV, plasma markers