Potential anti-EBV effects associated with elevated interleukin-21 levels: a case report

Kristian Assing*, Christian Nielsen, Marianne Jakobsen, Charlotte B. Andersen, Kristin Skogstrand, Shahin Gaini, Birgitte Preiss, Sussi Bagge Mortensen, Marianne Nielsine Skov, Line Dahlerup Rasmussen


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Background: Germinal center derived memory B cells and plasma cells constitute, in health and during EBV reactivation, the largest functional EBV reservoir. Hence, by reducing germinal center derived formation of memory B cells and plasma cells, EBV loads may be reduced. Animal and in-vitro models have shown that IL-21 can support memory B and plasma cell formation and thereby potentially contribute to EBV persistence. However, IL-21 also displays anti-viral effects, as mice models have shown that CD4+ T cell produced IL-21 is critical for the differentiation, function and survival of anti-viral CD8+ T cells able to contain chronic virus infections. Case presentation: We present immunological work-up (flow-cytometry, ELISA and genetics) related to a patient suffering from a condition resembling B cell chronic active EBV infection, albeit with moderately elevated EBV copy numbers. No mutations in genes associated with EBV disease, common variable immunodeficiency or pertaining to the IL-21 signaling pathway (including hypermorphic IL-21 mutations) were found. Increased (> 5-fold increase 7 days post-vaccination) CD4+ T cell produced (p < 0.01) and extracellular IL-21 levels characterized our patient and coexisted with: CD8+ lymphopenia, B lymphopenia, hypogammaglobulinemia, compromised memory B cell differentiation, absent induction of B-cell lymphoma 6 protein (Bcl-6) dependent peripheral follicular helper T cells (pTFH, p = 0.01), reduced frequencies of peripheral CD4+ Bcl-6+ T cells (p = 0.05), compromised plasmablast differentiation (reduced protein vaccine responses (p < 0.001) as well as reduced Treg frequencies. Supporting IL-21 mediated suppression of pTFH formation, pTFH and CD4+ IL-21+ frequencies were strongly inversely correlated, prior to and after vaccination, in the patient and in controls, Spearman’s rho: − 0.86, p < 0.001. Conclusions: To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of elevated CD4+ IL-21+ T cell frequencies in human EBV disease. IL-21 overproduction may, apart from driving T cell mediated anti-EBV responses, disrupt germinal center derived memory B cell and plasma cell formation, and thereby contribute to EBV disease control.

TidsskriftBMC Infectious Diseases
Antal sider8
StatusUdgivet - dec. 2020


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