Interleukin-21 (IL-21) modulates HIV-1 infection through the elicitation of different antiviral mechanisms, including Th17 lineage commitment and induction of microRNA (miR)-29, a miRNA endowed with anti-HIV activity. As miR-29 expression is significantly increased in HIV-1-exposed seronegative individuals (HESN), we investigated the role of miR-29/IL21 axis in the natural control of HIV-1 infection.Methods:
Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) isolated from 15 Italian sexually exposed HESN and 15 HIV-unexposed healthy controls were in-vitro infected with an R5-tropic HIV-1Ba-L strain. Seven days post HIV-1 infection we evaluated: 1) p24 production (ELISA); 2) CD4+/IL-21+ and CD4+/IL-17+ T lymphocytes (FACS); 3) IL-17 concentration in supernatants (ELISA); and 4) IL-6, IL-17, IL-21, and miR-29a,b,c expression by CD4+ T lymphocytes as well as perforin and granzyme by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (qPCR). The same analyses were performed on the 15 HIV-positive partners.Results:
At baseline IL-6 expression alone was increased in HESN compared to healthy controls. Seven days after in-vitro HIV-1 infection, nevertheless, differences emerged. Thus, CD4+/IL21+ and CD4+/IL17+ T lymphocytes, as well as IL-21 and IL-17 expression and production were significantly augmented in HESN compared to healthy controls. Interestingly, IL-21 upregulation correlated with a significantly increased expression of miR-29a,b,c and a reduced susceptibility to in-vitro HIV-1 infection in HESN alone. No differences were observed in perforin and granzyme expression.Conclusion:
The IL-21/miR-29 axis is upregulated by HIV-1 infection in HESN suggesting its involvement in the natural resistance to HIV-1 infection in HESN. Approaches that exogenously increase IL-21 production or prompt preexisting cellular IL-21 reservoir could confine the magnitude of the initial HIV-1 infection.