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AIDS. 2018 Mar 13;32(5):575-581. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001734.

The HIV-1 Tat protein affects human CD4+ T-cell programing and activation, and favors the differentiation of naïve CD4+ T cells.

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Department of Life Sciences and Biotechnology, University of Ferrara, Ferrara.
Department of Molecular Medicine, University of Padova, Padova, Italy.
Department of Immunology, NIMR Mbeya Medical Research Centre, Mbeya, Tanzania.
Division of Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine, Medical Center of the University of Munich (LMU).
German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), Partner Site Munich, Munich, Germany.
National AIDS Center, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.



HIV infection is characterized by several immune dysfunctions, such as chronic activation of the immune system, premature aging and loss of CD4 T cells, in particular within the naïve compartment. The Tat protein of HIV is released extracellularly and enters neighboring cells affecting their functionality, for instance impacting on CD8 T-cell programs and activity. As the presence and/or induction of anti-Tat immune responses is associated with reduced T-cell dysfunction and CD4 T-cell loss, we investigated whether Tat impacts human resting or activated CD4 T cells.


Purified CD4 T cells were activated by T cell receptor engagement in the presence or absence of Tat. Cytokine production, surface phenotype and expression of transcription factors important for T-cell programing were measured. Purified naïve CD4 T cells were cultured in nonpolarizing conditions in the presence or absence of Tat and their proliferation and differentiation was evaluated.


Tat favors the secretion of IL2, IFNγ and TNFα in CD4 T cells, as well as the upregulation of T-bet and Eomes expression. Naïve CD4 T cells cultured in the presence of Tat showed enhanced expansion and differentiation toward memory phenotype, showing in particular recruitment into the effector memory T-cell pool.


Tat affects the programing and functionality of CD4 T lymphocytes favoring the differentiation of naïve CD4 T cells.

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