Peripheral CD4 loss of regulatory T cells is associated with persistent viraemia in chronic HIV infection

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Chronic HIV infection is associated with T cell abnormalities and altered effector function. Regulatory T cells (Treg) are CD4+ T cells that play a critical role in regulating the immune system. The impact of regulatory T cells on HIV infection and disease progression may be highly significant. We hypothesize that chronic antigenic stimulation from a persistent, high viraemic state may promote a population of Treg that contributes to HIV-associated immune dysfunction. We evaluated the pattern of Treg in chronically infected, HIV-positive individuals over a course of 6 months. Treg are depleted at a distinct rate from that of absolute CD4 cells and loss of Treg is slower in the presence of viral suppression. In vitro depletion of CD25+ CD4+ cells resulted in increased Gag-specific CD4 and CD8 responses. A significant correlation between ex vivo measurement of Treg and Gag-specific CD4 T cell responses was observed (r = −0·41, P = 0·018) with a trend observed with Gag-specific CD8 T cell responses (P= 0·07). The impact of HIV infection on the Treg population directly complicates the measured effect of Treg on the immune dysfunction although our data support the important role of Treg on modulating the effector T cell response in chronic infection.

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