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Nature. 2002 May 2;417(6884):95-8.

HIV preferentially infects HIV-specific CD4+ T cells.

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Vaccine Research Center, NIAID, NIH, Maryland 20892, USA.


HIV infection is associated with the progressive loss of CD4(+) T cells through their destruction or decreased production. A central, yet unresolved issue of HIV disease is the mechanism for this loss, and in particular whether HIV-specific CD4(+) T cells are preferentially affected. Here we show that HIV-specific memory CD4(+) T cells in infected individuals contain more HIV viral DNA than other memory CD4(+) T cells, at all stages of HIV disease. Additionally, following viral rebound during interruption of antiretroviral therapy, the frequency of HIV viral DNA in the HIV-specific pool of memory CD4(+) T cells increases to a greater extent than in memory CD4(+) T cells of other specificities. These findings show that HIV-specific CD4(+) T cells are preferentially infected by HIV in vivo. This provides a potential mechanism to explain the loss of HIV-specific CD4(+) T-cell responses, and consequently the loss of immunological control of HIV replication. Furthermore, the phenomenon of HIV specifically infecting the very cells that respond to it adds a cautionary note to the practice of structured therapy interruption.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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