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J Virol. 2001 Nov;75(21):10319-25.

Interleukin-7 in plasma correlates with CD4 T-cell depletion and may be associated with emergence of syncytium-inducing variants in human immunodeficiency virus type 1-positive individuals.

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Retrovirology Laboratory irsiCaixa, Hospital Universitari Germans Trias i Pujol, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08916 Badalona, Spain.


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) primary infection is characterized by the use of CCR5 as a coreceptor for viral entry, which is associated with the non-syncytium-inducing (NSI) phenotype in lymphoid cells. Syncytium-inducing (SI) variants of HIV-1 appear in advanced stages of HIV-1 infection and are characterized by the use of CXCR4 as a coreceptor. The emergence of SI variants is accompanied by a rapid decrease in the number of T cells. However, it is unclear why SI variants emerge and what factors trigger the evolution of HIV from R5 to X4 variants. Interleukin-7 (IL-7), a cytokine produced by stromal cells of the thymus and bone marrow and by keratin, is known to play a key role in T-cell development. We evaluated IL-7 levels in plasma of healthy donors and HIV-positive patients and found significantly higher levels in HIV-positive patients. There was a negative correlation between circulating IL-7 levels and CD4(+) T-cell count in HIV-positive patients (r = -0.621; P < 0.001), suggesting that IL-7 may be involved in HIV-induced T-cell depletion and disease progression. IL-7 levels were higher in individuals who harbored SI variants and who had progressed to having CD4 cell counts of lower than 200 cells/microl than in individuals with NSI variants at a similar stage of disease. IL-7 induced T-cell proliferation and up-regulated CXCR4 expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells in vitro. Taken together, our results suggest a role for IL-7 in the maintenance of T-cell regeneration and depletion by HIV in infected individuals and a possible relationship between IL-7 levels and the emergence of SI variants.

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