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PLoS Biol. 2004 Feb;2(2):E20. Epub 2004 Feb 17.

Immune activation and CD8+ T-cell differentiation towards senescence in HIV-1 infection.

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Medical Research Council Human Immunology Unit, Institute of Molecular Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, United Kingdom.


Progress in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic is hindered by our failure to elucidate the precise reasons for the onset of immunodeficiency in HIV-1 infection. Increasing evidence suggests that elevated immune activation is associated with poor outcome in HIV-1 pathogenesis. However, the basis of this association remains unclear. Through ex vivo analysis of virus-specific CD8(+) T-cells and the use of an in vitro model of naïve CD8(+) T-cell priming, we show that the activation level and the differentiation state of T-cells are closely related. Acute HIV-1 infection induces massive activation of CD8(+) T-cells, affecting many cell populations, not only those specific for HIV-1, which results in further differentiation of these cells. HIV disease progression correlates with increased proportions of highly differentiated CD8(+) T-cells, which exhibit characteristics of replicative senescence and probably indicate a decline in T-cell competence of the infected person. The differentiation of CD8(+) and CD4(+) T-cells towards a state of replicative senescence is a natural process. It can be driven by excessive levels of immune stimulation. This may be part of the mechanism through which HIV-1-mediated immune activation exhausts the capacity of the immune system.

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