Recurrent infection with human alphaherpesvirus 1 (HHV-1) may be associated with immune exhaustion that impairs virus elimination. Thymic peptides enhance immune function and thus could overcome immune exhaustion. In this study, we investigated whether reactivation of herpes infections was associated with immune exhaustion. Moreover, we examined the impact of treatment with thymostimulin on the expression of programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) and its ligand (PD-L1) on T and B lymphocytes in patients suffering from recurrent HHV-1 reactivation. We also assessed the effector function of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) after stimulation with thymic peptides. We enrolled 50 women with reactivated HHV-1 infections and healthy volunteers. We measured the expression of various activation and exhaustion markers on the surface of PBMCs using flow cytometry. In ex vivo experiments, we measured the secretion of inflammatory cytokines by PBMCs cultured with thymostimulin. Compared with controls, patients with reactivated HHV-1 infections had increased percentages of CD3+ co-expressing CD25, an activation marker (p
< 0.001). Moreover, these patients had increased percentages of CD4+ and CD8+ cells co-expressing the inhibitory markers PD-1 and PD-L1. In cultures of PBMCs from the patients, thymostimulin increased the secretion of interferon gamma (p
< 0.001) and interleukin (IL)-2 (p
= 0.023), but not IL-4 or IL-10.Two-month thymostimulin therapy resulted in no reactivation of HHV-1 infection during this period and the reduction of PD-1 and PD-L1 expression on the surface of T and B lymphocytes (p
< 0.001). In conclusion, reactivation of herpes infection is associated with immune exhaustion, which could be reversed by treatment with thymic peptides.
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