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Genital Tract Infection With Chlamydia Trachomatis Fails To Induce Protective Immunity In Gamma Interferon Receptor-deficient Mice Despite A Strong Local Immunoglobulin A Response

M Johansson, K Schön, M Ward, N Lycke

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CD4+ T cells have been found to play a critical role in immune protection against Chlamydia trachomatis infection. Since both humoral and cell-mediated antichlamydial immunity have been implicated in host protection, the crucial effector functions provided by the CD4+ T cells may rely on Th1 or Th2 functions or both. In the present study, we evaluated the development of natural immunity following vaginal infection with C. trachomatis serovar D in female gamma interferon receptor-deficient (IFN-gammaR-/-) mice with a disrupted Th1 effector system. We found that in comparison with wild-type mice, the IFN-gammaR-/- mice exhibited a severe ascending primary infection of prolonged duration which stimulated almost 10-fold-stronger specific local immunoglobulin A (IgA) and IgG responses in the genital tract. Following resolution of the primary infection and despite the augmented antibody responses to chlamydiae, the IFN-gammaR-/- mice were completely unprotected against reinfection, suggesting that local antibodies play a subordinate role in host protection against chlamydial infection. Immunohistochemical analysis of frozen sections of the genital tract revealed many CD4+ T cells in the IFN-gammaR-/- mice, with a dominance of interleukin 4-containing cells in mice following resolution of the secondary infection. However, in contrast to the findings with wild-type mice, the typical clusters of CD4+ T cells were not found in the IFN-gammaR-/- mice. Few and similarly distributed CD8+ T cells were observed in IFN-gammaR-/- and wild-type mice. Whereas chlamydia-infected macrophages from wild-type mice had no inclusion bodies (IB) and produced significant amounts of nitric oxide (NO) in the presence of IFN-gamma, macrophages from IFN-gammaR-/- mice contained many IB but no NO. These results indicate that CD4+ Th1 cells and IFN-gamma, rather than local antibodies, are critical elements in host immune protection stimulated by a natural ascending C. trachomatis infection in the female genital tract.