Human Onchocerciasis in Nigeria: Isotypic Responses and Antigen Recognition in Individuals with Defined Cutaneous Pathology

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  • Department of Ophthalmology, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Wellcome Research Centre for Parasitic Diseases, Department of Biology, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, St. John's Institute of Dermatology, St. Thomas' Hospital, National Eye Centre, National Institute for Medical Research, Institute of Ophthalmology, Institute for Animal Health, Pirbright Laboratory, Kaduna, Nigeria

Antigen (Ag)-specific isotype responses to Onchocerca volvulus Ag (OvAg) were assessed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and immunoblot in 123 residents of a mesoendemic area in northern Nigeria and 16 Nigerians from a nonendemic area. Individuals from an endemic area were divided into six groups on the basis of cutaneous onchocercal pathology: acute papular onchodermatitis (APOD), chronic papular onchodermatitis (CPOD), lichenified onchodermatitis (LOD), atrophy (ATR), depigmentation (DPM) and normal skin, high microfilarial load (NSHMF). Immunoglobulin (Ig)G1–4 levels were all significantly associated with residence in an endemic area after controlling for age and sex (all P values = 0.0001). Both IgG1 and IgG3 were significantly associated with onchocercal clinical category after controlling for age, sex, and microfilarial load (P = 0.0031 and 0.0035, respectively). The IgG1 and IgG3 responses were both highest in LOD and lowest in NSHMF and ATR, respectively. A significant inverse association was found between IgG1 levels and microfilarial load after controlling for age, sex, and clinical category (P = 0.0061). On immunoblotting, 20 (44.4%) of 45 individual onchocerciasis sera contained IgG4 antibodies against a band of 29–31 kD, which was not recognized by pooled sera from individuals with other filarial infections. There was heterogeneity of antigen recognition within each of the onchocercal clinical groups, which together with the small numbers examined by immunoblotting, limits interpretation. Nevertheless, some differences in patterns of antigen recognition were found between the onchocercal groups. The LOD group demonstrated prominent immunoreactivity in IgG1 and IgG3 while a general paucity of low molecular weight reactivity was seen with NSHMF in IgG1–3 subclasses, but there was no specific banding pattern that differentiated NSHMF from those with pathology. Comparison of microfilariae-positive (mf+) and mf- individuals with onchocercal skin disease revealed significantly higher levels of all IgG subclasses and higher overall scores on semiquantitative assessment of immunoblots for IgG1, IgG2, and IgG4 for mf+ individuals. Differing isotypic responses may play a role in the pathogenesis of the clinical spectrum of cutaneous onchocerciasis.