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Mucosal Immunol. 2008 Jan;1(1):49-58. doi: 10.1038/mi.2007.5.

High frequencies of polyfunctional HIV-specific T cells are associated with preservation of mucosal CD4 T cells in bronchoalveolar lavage.

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Human Immunology Section, Vaccine Research Center, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.


The mechanisms underlying the massive gastrointestinal tract CD4 T-cell depletion in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection are not well understood nor is it clear whether similar depletion is manifest at other mucosal surfaces. Studies of T-cell and virus dynamics in different anatomical sites have begun to illuminate the pathogenesis of HIV-associated disease. Here, we studied depletion and HIV infection frequencies of CD4 T cells from the gastrointestinal tract, bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), and blood with the frequencies and functional profiles of HIV-specific T cells in these anatomically distinct sites in HIV-infected individuals. The major findings to emerge were as follows: (i) depletion of gastrointestinal CD4 T cells is associated with high frequencies of infected CD4 T cells; (ii) HIV-specific T cells are present at low frequencies in the gastrointestinal tract compared to blood; (iii) BAL CD4 T cells are not massively depleted during the chronic phase; (iv) infection frequencies of BAL CD4 T cells are similar to those in blood; (v) significantly higher frequencies and increased functionality of HIV-specific T cells were observed in BAL compared to blood. Taken together, these data suggest mechanisms for mucosal CD4 T-cell depletion and interventions that might circumvent global depletion of mucosal CD4 T cells.

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