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Immunol Lett. 2001 Mar 1;76(2):69-78.

Association of immune complexes and plasma viral load with CD4+ cell depletion, CD8+ DR+ and CD16+ cell counts in HIV+ hemophilia patients. Implications for the immunopathogenesis of HIV-induced CD4+ lymphocyte depletion.

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Department of Transplantation Immunology, Institute of Immunology, University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 305, D-69120, Heidelberg, Germany.



There is evidence that HIV induces CD4+ depletion in part by the formation of immune complexes (IC) that attach to CD4+ blood lymphocytes. In the present study we examined the relationship of IC-coated CD4+ blood cells with retroviral replication in HAART-treated patients.


52 hemophilia patients were studied from 1997 to 1999. Lymphocyte subsets, IgM, IgG and gp120 on CD4+ blood cells, in vitro responses of lymphocytes to mitogens, plasma neopterin and plasma viral load were measured.


Patients with detectable viral replication and without ICs on CD4+ blood lymphocytes had a lower viral load (4100 versus 21000 HIV-1 mRNA copies/ml; P = 0.079) and higher CD4+ cell counts (310/microl versus 161/microl; P = 0.035) than patients with ICs on circulating CD4+ lymphocytes. Among patients with < 80 HIV-1 mRNA copies/ml, IC- individuals had slightly higher CD4+ lymphocyte counts than IC+ patients (384/microl versus 316/microl; n.s.). Further evidence for the clinical relevance of the ICs was obtained when 18 patients who had an undetectable viral load at previous investigations were analyzed. Among patients with a stable undetectable viral load, CD4+ counts increased in 6 of 8 IC- but in none of 2 IC+ individuals. In patients whose viral load increased during the observation period, 5 of 6 IC- but none of 2 IC+ individuals showed higher CD4+ cell counts. Impaired virus killing is suggested by lower CD16+ (35/microl versus 107/microl; P = 0.016), higher CD3+ DR+ (178/microl versus 66/microl; P = 0.006), and higher CD8+ DR+ (142/microl versus 34/microl; P = 0.017) cell counts in IC(-) patients compared to IC- patients without detectable viral load. Strong retroviral replication induced strong T cell dysfunctions. Fewer CD3+ 25+ blood lymphocytes (19/microl versus 47/microl; P = 0.006) and a lower in vitro response of T lymphocytes to the mitogens Con A (RR: 0.3 versus 1.2; P=0.023) and CD3 mab (RR: 0.5 versus 2.4; P = 0.012) was observed in IC+ patients with detectable versus undetectable viral load.


Our data suggest that ICs on circulating CD4+ blood lymphocytes are primarily associated with CD4+ lymphocyte depletion whereas the plasma viral load is primarily associated with decreased T lymphocyte activation, lower CD16+ counts, and higher CD8+ DR+ lymphocytes which might be the effector cells for virus elimination.

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