BACKGROUND: It is not known if there is a difference in the immune response to syphilis between HIV-infected and uninfected individuals.
METHODS: We prospectively recruited all patients with a new diagnosis of syphilis and tested their plasma for IFNα, IFNγ, IL-1β, IL-12p40, IL-12p70, IP-10, MCP-1, MIP-1α, MIP-1β, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-7, IL-8, IL-10 and IL-17A at baseline pre-treatment and 6 months following therapy.
RESULTS: A total of 79 HIV-infected [44 primary/secondary syphilis (PSS) and 35 latent syphilis (LS)] and 12 HIV-uninfected (10 PSS and 2 LS) cases of syphilis and 30 HIV-infected controls were included in the study. At the baseline visit, compared to the control group, concentrations of IL-10 were significantly elevated in the HIV-infected and uninfected groups. The level of IL-10 was significantly higher in the HIV-infected compared to the HIV-uninfected PSS group (25.3 pg/mL (IQR, 4.56-41.76) vs 2.73 pg/mL (IQR, 1.55-9.02), P = 0.0192). In the HIV-infected PSS group (but not the HIV-infected LS or HIV-uninfected PSS groups) the IP-10, MIP-1b, IL-6 and IL-8 were raised compared to the controls. IL-10 levels decreased but did not return to control baseline values by 6 months in HIV infected PSS and LS and HIV uninfected PSS.
CONCLUSION: PSS and LS in HIV-infected individuals is characterized by an increase in inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-10. The increase of IL-10 is greater in HIV-infected than uninfected individuals. Further work is required to ascertain if this is part of an immunological profile that correlates with adverse outcomes such as serofast syphilis and neurosyphilis, in HIV-infected individuals.