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AIDS. 2012 Apr 24;26(7):805-14. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0b013e328351f780.

A role for cytomegalovirus-specific CD4+CX3CR1+ T cells and cytomegalovirus-induced T-cell immunopathology in HIV-associated atherosclerosis.

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  • 1Division of Experimental Medicine, San Francisco General Hospital, University of California San Francisco, 94110, USA.



HIV-infected individuals are at increased risk for myocardial infarction. Given observations that cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, CMV-specific T cells, and CX3CR1 have each been associated with atherosclerosis, we hypothesized that CMV-induced T-cell immunopathology could contribute to HIV-associated atherosclerosis.


We measured the expression of CX3CR1 on peripheral blood mononuclear cells and its association with carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT) in 29 HIV-infected individuals and 48 uninfected controls. We analyzed the phenotype and specificity of CX3CR1(+)CD4(+) T cells, the production of CX3CL1 (the ligand of CX3CR1) by CMV-infected endothelial cells in vitro, and the migration of CD4(+) T cells induced by CX3CL1.


The progression of atherosclerosis in HIV-infected individuals, as assessed by longitudinal measurements of carotid IMT, was associated with a high frequency of CD4(+) T cells that express the chemokine receptor CX3CR1. Such CD4(+)CX3CR1(+) T cells were antigen-primed, produced high levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and composed the majority of the CMV-specific CD4(+) T cells. CMV-stimulated CD4(+) T cells were also found to induce the production of CX3CL1 (the ligand for CX3CR1) by human arterial endothelial cells, driving the transendothelial migration of pro-inflammatory CD4(+) T cells. Finally, we observed that CD4(+)CX3CR1(+) T cells could be localized to the coronary arterial wall in HIV disease.


HIV-associated atherosclerosis may be driven by a positive feedback pathway in which a high frequency of antigen-stimulated, CMV-specific CD4(+)CX3CR1(+) T cells induce endothelial cells to secrete CX3CL1, which itself drives progressive infiltration of the arterial wall by pro-inflammatory cells.

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