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J Clin Invest. 2011 Nov;121(11):4433-45. doi: 10.1172/JCI46023. Epub 2011 Oct 17.

Depletion of CD4⁺ T cells abrogates post-peak decline of viremia in SIV-infected rhesus macaques.

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  • 1Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Emory Vaccine Center, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


CD4+ T cells play a central role in the immunopathogenesis of HIV/AIDS, and their depletion during chronic HIV infection is a hallmark of disease progression. However, the relative contribution of CD4+ T cells as mediators of antiviral immune responses and targets for virus replication is still unclear. Here, we have generated data in SIV-infected rhesus macaques (RMs) that suggest that CD4+ T cells are essential in establishing control of virus replication during acute infection. To directly assess the role of CD4+ T cells during primary SIV infection, we in vivo depleted these cells from RMs prior to infecting the primates with a pathogenic strain of SIV. Compared with undepleted animals, CD4+ lymphocyte-depleted RMs showed a similar peak of viremia, but did not manifest any post-peak decline of virus replication despite CD8+ T cell- and B cell-mediated SIV-specific immune responses comparable to those observed in control animals. Interestingly, depleted animals displayed rapid disease progression, which was associated with increased virus replication in non-T cells as well as the emergence of CD4-independent SIV-envelopes. Our results suggest that the antiviral CD4+ T cell response may play an important role in limiting SIV replication, which has implications for the design of HIV vaccines.

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