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J Exp Med. 2002 Apr 1;195(7):869-79.

CD1d-restricted human natural killer T cells are highly susceptible to human immunodeficiency virus 1 infection.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Vanderbilt University Medical School, Nashville, TN 37232, USA.


Human natural killer (NK) T cells are unique T lymphocytes that express an invariant T cell receptor (TCR) Valpha24-Vbeta11 and have been implicated to play a role in various diseases. A subset of NKT cells express CD4 and hence are potential targets for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1 infection. We demonstrate that both resting and activated human Valpha24(+) T cells express high levels of the HIV-1 coreceptors CCR5 and Bonzo (CXCR6), but low levels of CCR7, as compared with conventional T cells. Remarkably NKT cells activated with alpha-galactosylceramide (alpha-GalCer)-pulsed dendritic cells were profoundly more susceptible to infection with R5-tropic, but not X4-tropic, strains of HIV-1, compared with conventional CD4(+) T cells. Furthermore, resting CD4(+) NKT cells were also more susceptible to infection. After initial infection, HIV-1 rapidly replicated and depleted the CD4(+) subset of NKT cells. In addition, peripheral blood NKT cells were markedly and selectively depleted in HIV-1 infected individuals. Although the mechanisms of this decline are not clear, low numbers or absence of NKT cells may affect the course of HIV-1 infection. Taken together, our findings indicate that CD4(+) NKT cells are directly targeted by HIV-1 and may have a potential role during viral transmission and spread in vivo.

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