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AIDS. 2000 Mar 10;14(4):345-55.

Deregulation of the CD95/CD95L system in lymphocytes from patients with primary acute HIV infection.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Modena School of Medicine, Italy.



To analyze the role of CD95/CD95 ligand (CD95L) expression and functionality in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) during primary, acute HIV syndrome (AHS) and in the subsequent period.


Twelve patients were studied during the acute phase of the viral infection and most were followed for some months.


Cell culture and cytotoxicity assays based upon 51Cr release and flow cytometry were used to evaluate cell killing via CD95 molecule, flow cytometry to assess surface antigens, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for the determination of soluble CD95 and CD95L plasma levels, quantitative competitive (QC) reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) with an original RNA competitor for the analysis of CD95L mRNA expression and QC RT-PCR for determining plasma viral load.


The analysis of PBL during this phase revealed that almost all cells, including CD8 T cells with a virgin phenotype, B lymphocytes and natural killer cells displayed CD95 molecules on the plasma membrane. Activation of CD95 on the surface of isolated lymphocytes by anti-CD95 monoclonal antibodies or binding to CD95L induced rapid apoptosis. However, CD95L mRNA was not expressed in PBL from these patients and was poorly inducible. Soluble CD95 was found in the plasma of all patients, but only in a few at high levels, even some months after seroconversion. In contrast, soluble CD95L was detected in only one patient, this occurring after the symptomatic period. For 10 of the 12 patients, expression of CD95 on the cell membrane or in the plasma did not correlate with the plasma viral load, which varied widely from patient to patient. Further, plasma levels of soluble CD95 were not altered by decreased lymphocyte activation or by efficient antiretroviral therapy.


In patients experiencing an acute, primary HIV infection, a prolonged deregulation of the CD95/CD95L system may exist, which is probably not entirely related to virus production but may contribute to the pathogenesis of the disease. The hypothesis can be put forward that a complex balance exists between proapoptotic events (increase in CD95 expression), probably triggered by the host as a method to limit viral production, and antiapoptotic events (decrease in CD95L expression) probably triggered by the virus as a way to increase its production and survival.

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