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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1990;616:307-17.

Impaired immunity in AIDS. The mechanisms responsible and their potential reversal by antiviral therapy.

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Department of Pathology, L235, Stanford University School of Medicine, California 94305.


The inability of CD4+ T cells of HIV-1-infected patients to mount an effective immune response is widely believed to explain the increased susceptibility of these patients to opportunistic infections. Although the full explanation for T-cell dysfunction in HIV-1 infection is not yet understood, at least two fundamentally distinct mechanisms are thought to contribute: depletion of CD4+ T cells and qualitative CD4+ T-cell dysfunction independent of T-cell depletion. Many HIV-1-infected patients manifest reduced T-cell responses to recall antigens prior to measurable CD4+ T-cell depletion, and among the proposed explanations for this phenomenon are gp120-mediated interference with T-cell activation by way of inhibition of CD4-class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) determinant interactions, gp41-mediated inhibition of protein kinase C-dependent T-cell activation, formation of gp41 cross-reactive antibodies that react with MHC class II determinants, transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta)-mediated immunosuppression, and decreased functions of antigen-presenting and antigen-processing cells (macrophages and bone marrow-derived dendritic cells). Despite their detection in most HIV-1-infected patients, these qualitative T-cell defects do not herald the onset of life-threatening disease. The appearance of severe clinical manifestations of AIDS, particularly opportunistic infections, occurs primarily in patients whose CD4+ T-cell count is significantly reduced. Depletion of CD4+ T cells may be a direct consequence of HIV-1 infection that occurs as a result of syncytia formation, autoantibody-mediated cytolysis, gp120-specific antibody-dependent cytolysis, and/or gp120-specific T-cell mediated cytolysis. The thymus is severely affected in patients with late-stage disease, and although there is no proof that the failure of the thymus to regenerate new T cells contributes to T-cell depletion in patients with AIDS, the likelihood seems high that this is the case. Indeed, if prolonged suppression of HIV-1 replication can be achieved with newer anti-HIV drugs or combinations of drugs, reconstitution of a normal immune system seems likely, provided that the capacity to regenerate T cells has not been irrevocably lost as a consequence of viral infection. In summary, available evidence indicates that HIV-1 uses a complex array of mechanisms to disrupt T-cell mediated immunity, but because most of these involve a direct role for HIV-1 proteins, such mechanisms are likely to be reversible if suppression of HIV-1 replication can be achieved.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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