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PLoS One. 2010 Dec 31;5(12):e15663. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015663.

Increased bone marrow interleukin-7 (IL-7)/IL-7R levels but reduced IL-7 responsiveness in HIV-positive patients lacking CD4+ gain on antiviral therapy.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Surgery and Dentistry, Clinic of Infectious Diseases, San Paolo Hospital, University of Milan, Milan, Italy.



The bone marrow (BM) cytokine milieu might substantially affect T-lymphocyte homeostasis in HIV-positive individuals. Interleukin-7 (IL-7) is a bone marrow-derived cytokine regulating T-cell homeostasis through a CD4+-driven feedback loop. CD4+ T-lymphopenia is associated with increased free IL-7 levels and reduced IL-7R expression/function, which are only partially reverted by highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). We investigated the BM production, peripheral expression and signaling (pStat5+ and Bcl-2+ CD4+/CD8+ T cells) of IL-7/IL-7Rα in 30 HAART-treated HIV-positive patients who did not experience CD4+ recovery (CD4+ ≤200/µl) and who had different levels of HIV viremia; these patients included 18 immunological nonresponders (INRs; HIV-RNA≤50), 12 complete failures (CFs; HIV-RNA>1000), and 23 HIV-seronegative subjects.


We studied plasma IL-7 levels, IL-7Rα+CD4+/CD8+ T-cell proportions, IL-7Rα mRNA expression in PBMCs, spontaneous IL-7 production by BM mononuclear cells (BMMCs), and IL-7 mRNA/IL-7Rα mRNA in BMMC-derived stromal cells (SCs). We also studied T-cell responsiveness to IL-7 by measuring the proportions of pStat5+ and Bcl-2+ CD4+/CD8+ T cells.


Compared to HIV-seronegative controls, CFs and INRs presented elevated plasma IL-7 levels and lower IL-7Rα CD4+/CD8+ cell-surface expression and peripheral blood production, confirming the most relevant IL-7/IL-7R disruption. Interestingly, BM investigation revealed a trend of higher spontaneous IL-7 production in INRs (p = .09 vs. CFs) with a nonsignificant trend toward higher IL-7-Rα mRNA levels in BMMC-derived stromal cells. However, upon IL-7 stimulation, the proportion of pStat5+CD4+ T cells did not increase in INRs despite higher constitutive levels (p = .06); INRs also displayed lower Bcl-2+CD8+ T-cell proportions than controls (p = .04).


Despite severe CD4+ T-lymphopenia and a disrupted IL-7/IL-7R profile in the periphery, INRs display elevated BM IL-7/IL-7Rα expression but impaired T-cell responsiveness to IL-7, suggesting the activity of a central compensatory pathway targeted to replenish the CD4+ compartment, which is nevertheless inappropriate to compensate the dysfunctional signaling through IL-7 receptor.

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