Epigenetic mechanisms, such as DNA methylation, determine immune cell phenotype. To understand the epigenetic alterations induced by helminth coinfections, we evaluated the longitudinal effect of ascariasis and schistosomiasis infection on CD4+ T cell DNA methylation and the downstream tuberculosis (TB)-specific and bacillus Calmette-Guérin-induced immune phenotype. All experiments were performed on human primary immune cells from a longitudinal cohort of recently TB-exposed children. Compared with age-matched uninfected controls, children with active Schistosoma haematobium and Ascaris lumbricoides infection had 751 differentially DNA-methylated genes, with 72% hypermethylated. Gene ontology pathway analysis identified inhibition of IFN-γ signaling, cellular proliferation, and the Th1 pathway. Targeted real-time quantitative PCR after methyl-specific endonuclease digestion confirmed DNA hypermethylation of the transcription factors BATF3, ID2, STAT5A, IRF5, PPARg, RUNX2, IRF4, and NFATC1 and cytokines or cytokine receptors IFNGR1, TNFS11, RELT (TNF receptor), IL12RB2, and IL12B (p < 0.001; Sidak-Bonferroni). Functional blockage of the IFN-γ signaling pathway was confirmed, with helminth-infected individuals having decreased upregulation of IFN-γ-inducible genes (Mann-Whitney p < 0.05). Hypomethylation of the IL-4 pathway and DNA hypermethylation of the Th1 pathway was confirmed by Ag-specific multidimensional flow cytometry demonstrating decreased TB-specific IFN-γ and TNF and increased IL-4 production by CD4+ T cells (Wilcoxon signed-rank p < 0.05). In S. haematobium-infected individuals, these DNA methylation and immune phenotypic changes persisted at least 6 mo after successful deworming. This work demonstrates that helminth infection induces DNA methylation and immune perturbations that inhibit TB-specific immune control and that the duration of these changes are helminth specific.
- Journal Article