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Clin Infect Dis. 2011 Mar 1;52(5):681-7. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciq202. Epub 2011 Jan 18.

HIV-specific CD4+ T cells may contribute to viral persistence in HIV controllers.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.



Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)--infected individuals maintaining plasma HIV RNA levels <75 copies/mL in the absence of therapy ("HIV controllers") often maintain high HIV-specific T cell responses, which likely contribute to the control of viral replication. Despite robust immune responses, these individuals never eradicate HIV infection. We hypothesized that HIV-specific CD4(+) T cells might serve as target cells for HIV, contributing to viral persistence in this setting.


We measured frequencies of activated (CD38(+) HLA-DR(+)) and HIV Gag-specific CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells and plasma- and cell-associated levels of HIV RNA and DNA in a cohort of 38 HIV controllers.


Although there was no evidence of a relationship between the extent of low-level viremia and the frequency of either activated or HIV-specific CD4(+) T cells, controllers with higher HIV-specific CD4(+) T cell frequencies had higher cell-associated HIV DNA levels (ρ = 0.53; P = .019). Higher activated CD4+ T cell frequencies were also associated with higher levels of cell-associated DNA (P = .027) and RNA (P = .0096). However, there was no evidence of a relationship between cell-associated HIV RNA or DNA levels and HIV-specific CD8(+) T cell frequencies.


These data support a model in which strong HIV-specific CD4(+) T cell responses in HIV controllers, while contributing to a potent adaptive immune response, may also contribute to viral persistence, preventing the natural eradication of HIV infection.

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