A team of scientists have identified cells in blood that can help predict which HIV-positive individuals are most likely to develop deadly fungal meningitis.
The team included an Indian origin scientist from Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.
A major cause of fungal meningitis is Cryptococcus neoformans, a yeast-like fungus commonly found in soil and in bird droppings.
Virtually everyone has been infected with Cryptococcus neoformans, but a healthy immune system keeps the infection from ever causing disease.
During the study, lead researcher Dr. Liise-anne Pirofski counted the number of immune cells known as IgM memory B cells in the bloodstream of three groups of individuals: people infected with HIV who had a history of fungal meningitis caused by Cryptococcus neoformans; people infected with HIV but with no history of the disease; and those with no history of either HIV infection or the disease.
"We were astounded to find a profound difference in the level of these IgM memory B cells between the HIV-infected groups," said Pirofski.
"The HIV-infected people with fungal meningitis caused by Cryptococcus neoformans had much lower levels of these cells," Pirofski added.
Krishanthi Subramanian, Ph.D., who did her thesis work in Dr. Pirofski's laboratory, is the first author of the study.
The study appears in online issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases.