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AIDS. 1996 Jun;10(7):717-27.

Thymocyte and thymic microenvironment alterations during a systemic HIV infection in a severe combined immunodeficient mouse model.

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  • 1Laboratory of Cellular Immunology, Unité de Recherche Associée, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) 625, Paris, France.



A new model for systemic and multifocal HIV-1 infection was developed in severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mice to study the alterations of thymocytes and of the thymic microenvironment that occur during a disseminated HIV infection.


We grafted SCID mice with the classical human fetal thymus/liver co-implants together with fragments of autologous lungs (SCID-huLLT). These organs achieved normal differentiation and were productively infected after an intraperitoneal inoculation of two HIV-1 primary isolates. At time of sacrifice, thymic biopsies and thymic cell suspensions were analysed by immunohistochemistry, flow cytometry and lymphocyte function assays.


At weeks 2-4 post-inoculation we observed the following thymocyte abnormalities: a minor to severe depletion of the immature CD1+CD4+CD8+ T cells (range, 0-73% thymocytes), compared with the persistence of mature CD4+ cells (11-50%) and amplification of CD8+ T cells (6-92%). The immature subset depletion was inversely related to the thymic HIV-1 viral load, suggesting the preferential infection of this subset. The residual mature thymocytes were functional as assessed by their sustained proliferative responses to CD3-triggering which contrasted with the lack of HIV-specific cytotoxic activity. A quantitative analysis of immunostained thymic sections revealed a disorganization and a densification of the thymic epithelial cells (TEC) network which occurred in all HIV-infected SCID-hu mice independently of the thymic CD1+CD4+CD8+ T-cell depletion.


These results suggest that a systemic HIV infection induces in human thymuses from SCID-huLLT mice a preferential depletion of the immature thymocytes in the absence of mature CD4+ T-cell depletion, HIV-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte activity or thymic epithelial cell death, but is associated with dysplasia of the thymic microenvironment, and is therefore opening new perspectives for studying immune cell reconstitution strategies in HIV infection.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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