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PLoS One. 2011 Feb 7;6(2):e16468. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016468.

Implications of CTL-mediated killing of HIV-infected cells during the non-productive stage of infection.

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Theoretical Biology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Patients infected with HIV exhibit orders of magnitude differences in their set-point levels of the plasma viral load. As to what extent this variation is due to differences in the efficacy of the cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response in these patients is unclear. Several studies have shown that HIV-infected CD4+ T cells also present viral epitopes that are recognized by CTLs before the productive stage of infection, i.e., during the intracellular eclipse phase before the infected cell starts to produce new viral particles. Here, we use mathematical modeling to investigate the potential impact of early killing of HIV-infected cells on viral replication. We suggest that the majority of CTL-mediated killing could occur during the viral eclipse phase, and that the killing of virus-producing cells could be substantially lower at later stages due to MHC-I-down-regulation. Such a mechanism is in agreement with several experimental observations that include CD8+ T cell depletion and antiretroviral drug treatment. This indicates a potentially important role of CTL-mediated killing during the non-productive stage of HIV-infected cells.

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