Research Article

Measles virus infection diminishes preexisting antibodies that offer protection from other pathogens

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Science  01 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6465, pp. 599-606
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay6485

The toll of measles on the immune system

Many of the deaths attributable to measles virus are caused by secondary infections because the virus infects and functionally impairs immune cells. Whether measles infection causes long-term damage to immune memory has been unclear. This question has become increasingly important given the resurgence in measles epidemics worldwide. Using a blood test called VirScan, Mina et al. comprehensively analyzed the antibody repertoire in children before and after natural infection with measles virus as well as in children before and after measles vaccination. They found that measles infection can greatly diminish previously acquired immune memory, potentially leaving individuals at risk for infection by other pathogens. These adverse effects on the immune system were not seen in vaccinated children.

Science, this issue p. 599

Abstract

Measles virus is directly responsible for more than 100,000 deaths yearly. Epidemiological studies have associated measles with increased morbidity and mortality for years after infection, but the reasons why are poorly understood. Measles virus infects immune cells, causing acute immune suppression. To identify and quantify long-term effects of measles on the immune system, we used VirScan, an assay that tracks antibodies to thousands of pathogen epitopes in blood. We studied 77 unvaccinated children before and 2 months after natural measles virus infection. Measles caused elimination of 11 to 73% of the antibody repertoire across individuals. Recovery of antibodies was detected after natural reexposure to pathogens. Notably, these immune system effects were not observed in infants vaccinated against MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), but were confirmed in measles-infected macaques. The reduction in humoral immune memory after measles infection generates potential vulnerability to future infections, underscoring the need for widespread vaccination.

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