Landmark clinical observations and immunopathogenesis pathways linked to HIV and Cryptococcus fatal central nervous system co-infection

Samuel Okurut, David R. Boulware, Joseph Olobo, David B. Meya

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Cryptococcal meningitis remains one of the leading causes of death among HIV-infected adults in the fourth decade of HIV era in sub-Saharan Africa, contributing to 10%–20% of global HIV-related deaths. Despite widespread use and early induction of ART among HIV-infected adults, incidence of cryptococcosis remains significant in those with advanced HIV disease. Cryptococcus species that causes fatal infection follows systemic spread from initial environmental acquired infection in lungs to antigenaemia and fungaemia in circulation prior to establishment of often fatal disease, cryptococcal meningitis in the CNS. Cryptococcus person-to-person transmission is uncommon, and deaths related to blood infection without CNS involvement are rare. Keen to the persistent high mortality associated with HIV-cryptococcal meningitis, seizures are common among a third of the patients, altered mental status is frequent, anaemia is prevalent with ensuing brain hypoxia and at autopsy, brain fibrosis and infarction are evident. In addition, fungal burden is 3-to-4-fold higher in those with seizures. And high immune activation together with exacerbated inflammation and elevated PD-1/PD-L immune checkpoint expression is immunomodulated phenotypes elevated in CSF relative to blood. Lastly, though multiple Cryptococcus species cause disease in this setting, observations are mostly generalised to cryptococcal infection/meningitis or regional dominant species (C neoformans or gattii complex) that may limit our understanding of interspecies differences in infection, progression, treatment or recovery outcome. Together, these factors and underlying mechanisms are hypotheses generating for research to find targets to prevent infection or adequate therapy to prevent persistent high mortality with current optimal therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)840-853
Number of pages14
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported, in part, by the funding from National Institute of Health Fogarty International Center training grant (1D43TW009771 ? [YCM]) and GlaxoSmithKline Trust in Science Africa research capacity building grant (COL100044928 ? [S.O]). We thank Barbara Castelnuovo, Stephen Okoboi, Aidah Nanvuma, from Infectious Diseases Institute, Research Capacity Building Unit, for supporting the training programme.


  • B-cell immune regulation
  • HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis co-infection
  • Human Cryptococcus infection
  • PD-1/PD-L1 immune regulation
  • brain fibrosis
  • central nervous system evasion
  • immune activation
  • pathogenesis
  • treatment outcome

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