In vitro neutrophil-mediated microfilarial killing, humoral responses to crude adult worm antigens (OVAg) and to four recombinant Onchocerca antigens (GST-OV7, GST-OV103, GST-OV3.6, and MBP-OV16), as well as Western blot analysis to stage-specific Onchocerca proteins were studied in individuals from Bassa County, Liberia, infected with onchocerciasis and in endemic normals, defined as individuals without micro-filaridermia. Both groups exhibited high levels of specific serum-dependent killing of microfilariae but could not be differentiated on the basis of these results. However, infected individuals had a significantly higher frequency of antibody response to OVAg (P = 0.0001) and to GST-OV7 (P = 0.01) and were 13.3 times more likely to respond to all antigens except GST-OV103. Based on the pattern of response to the different antigens, 17 categories of specific recognition were observed. Nine of these categories were common to both the infected individuals and the endemic normals, 2 were unique to the infected individuals, and 6 were unique to the endemic normals. Among the endemic normals, we identified a subcategory of individuals who had nondetectable levels of total IgG to OVAg by ELISA and had significantly lower IgG4 responses to OVAg. These same individuals demonstrated evidence of past infection, based on serum antibodies detectable by Western blot analysis to male and female adult worms and skin microfilariae, and had a positive response to two or less of the recombinant antigens. We believe that this subcategory may represent individuals with a unique status of immunity.
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