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PLoS One. 2017 Nov 1;12(11):e0186823. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186823. eCollection 2017.

IL-23 signaling in Th17 cells is inhibited by HIV infection and is not restored by HAART: Implications for persistent immune activation.

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The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Immunology, The University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
The Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Division of Infectious Diseases, The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.



HIV infection causes a profound depletion of gut derived Th17 cells, contributing to loss of mucosal barrier function and an increase in microbial translocation, thus driving systemic immune activation. Despite normalization of circulating CD4+ T cell counts with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), Th17 frequency and function often remain impaired. Given the importance of interleukin (IL)-23 in the generation and stabilization of Th17 cells we hypothesized that impaired IL-23 signaling causes persistent Th17 dysfunction in HIV infection.


The effects of in vitro HIV infection on responses to IL-23 in Th17 cells were examined. These included the production of IL-17, phosphorylated STAT3 (pSTAT3) and the transcription of retinoic acid orphan receptor C (RORC) gene. Blood derived Th17 cells from untreated and HAART-treated HIV-infected individuals were also examined for the IL-23 induced production of phosphorylated STAT3 (pSTAT3) and the expression of the IL-23 receptors.


In vitro HIV infection significantly inhibited IL-17 production and IL-23 induced pSTAT3 while expression of RORC RNA was unaffected. Th17 cells isolated from untreated and HAART-treated HIV-infected individuals showed complete loss of IL-23 induced pSTAT3 without a decrease in the expression of the IL-23 receptors.


This study is the first to demonstrate an effect of HIV on the IL-23 signaling pathway in Th17 cells. We show that in vitro and in vivo HIV infection results in impaired IL-23 signaling which is not reversed by HAART nor is it a result of reduced receptor expression, suggesting that HIV interferes with IL-23-activated signaling pathways. These findings may explain the inability of HAART to restore Th17 frequency and function and the resulting persistent chronic immune activation observed in HIV infected individuals.

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