by Yusuf O. Omosun, Anna J. Blackstock, Wangeci Gatei, Allen Hightower, Anne Maria van Eijk, John Ayisi, Juliana Otieno, Renu B. Lal, Richard Steketee, Bernard Nahlen, Feiko O. ter Kuile, Laurence Slutsker, Ya Ping Shi
Pregnant women have abundant natural killer (NK) cells in their placenta, and NK cell function is regulated by polymorphisms of killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs). Previous studies report different roles of NK cells in the immune responses to placental malaria (PM) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1) infections. Given these references, the aim of this study was to determine the association between KIR gene content polymorphism and PM infection in pregnant women of known HIV-1 status. Sixteen genes in the KIR family were analyzed in 688 pregnant Kenyan women. Gene content polymorphisms were assessed in relation to PM in HIV-1 negative and HIV-1 positive women, respectively. Results showed that in HIV-1 negative women, the presence of the individual genes KIR2DL1 and KIR2DL3 increased the odds of having PM, and the KIR2DL2/KIR2DL2 homozygotes were associated with protection from PM. However, the reverse relationship was observed in HIV-1 positive women, where the presence of individual KIR2DL3 was associated with protection from PM, and KIR2DL2/KIR2DL2 homozygotes increased the odds for susceptibility to PM. Further analysis of the HIV-1 positive women stratified by CD4 counts showed that this reverse association between KIR genes and PM remained only in the individuals with high CD4 cell counts but not in those with low CD4 cell counts. Collectively, these results suggest that inhibitory KIR2DL2 and KIR2DL3, which are alleles of the same locus, play a role in the inverse effects on PM and PM/HIV co-infection and the effect of KIR genes on PM in HIV positive women is dependent on high CD4 cell counts. In addition, analysis of linkage disequilibrium (LD) of the PM relevant KIR genes showed strong LD in women without PM regardless of their HIV status while LD was broken in those with PM, indicating possible selection pressure by malaria infection on the KIR genes.