Loss of IL-7Rα is associated with CD4 T-cell depletion, high interleukin-7 levels and CD28 down-regulation in HIV infected patients

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Objective:Elevated levels of interleukin (IL)-7 are present in the blood of HIV-positive patients and it is known that IL-7 receptor (IL-7R)α expression decreases on T cells during HIV infection. The subset(s) of T cells with low IL-7Rα and the consequence of low IL-7Rα expression for T-cell survival are poorly characterized.Design:The frequency of IL-7Rα-negative T cells in HIV-positive patients was studied in relation to CD4 T-cell counts, IL-7 concentration and survival in culture. We analysed IL-7Rα expression in different T-cell populations and in relation to Bcl-2 expression.Methods:Specimens from 38 HIV-1 patients and 17 controls were examined. IL-7Rα and Bcl-2 expression in different T-cell populations was studied by flow cytometry. The influence of IL-7Rα expression on T-cell survival was studied by culturing T cells in the presence of IL-7.Results:Down-regulation of IL-7Rα on T cells correlated with depletion of CD4 T cells (P < 0.001) and also with increased concentration of serum IL-7 (P < 0.05). The decreased IL-7Rα expression was associated with low Bcl-2 expression and with the reduced survival capacity of T cells in the presence of IL-7 in vitro. Particularly, T cells with memory phenotype showed a decreased IL-7Rα expression in association with CD28 down-regulation.Conclusions:The positive effects of IL-7 on survival and homeostatic proliferation of T cells might be severely impaired in HIV-infected individuals due to IL-7Rα down-regulation. Differentiation towards a CD28-negative memory phenotype in response to chronic activation may lead to an overall decrease of IL-7 mediated survival within the peripheral T-cell pool.

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