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Am J Pathol. 1992 Jan;140(1):15-22.

Follicular dendritic cells are a major reservoir for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 in lymphoid tissues facilitating infection of CD4+ T-helper cells.

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Institute of Pathology, Klinikum Steglitz, Free University Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany.


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection causes progressive depletion of CD4/HIV-receptor-positive T helper lymphocytes, ultimately leading to AIDS. The major HIV reservoir and site of T-helper cell infection in lymphoid tissues, however, has remained poorly defined. The authors used in situ hybridization in combination with immunohistologic labeling techniques to identify the phenotype of HIV-infected cells in lymph nodes from patients at different stages of HIV-infection. The number of HIV-infected macrophages, widely considered the major site of HIV replication, was extremely low. There was no evidence for HIV-infection of endothelial and interdigitating reticulum cells. However, HIV RNA was found in small but consistent proportions of CD45RO-positive T cells and in the vast majority of follicular dendritic cells (FDC) in a pattern suggestive of active infection in addition to HIV-immunocomplex trapping on cell membranes. FDC may therefore be a major HIV reservoir and since T-helper cells travel through the FDC meshwork during their migration within lymphoreticular tissues, it appears likely that HIV-replicating T cells may infect FDC, which then infect new T cells, thus causing a gradual dissemination of the virus to all FDC and thereby a steadily increasing infection of T-helper/memory cells within germinal centers. This results in CD4+ T cell depletion, and ultimately, in immunodeficiency.

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