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J Clin Invest. 1994 Mar;93(3):982-8.

Programmed death of T cells in human immunodeficiency virus infection. No correlation with progression to disease.

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Department of Clinical Viro-Immunology, Central Laboratory of the Netherlands Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service, Amsterdam.


Programmed death of T cells has been proposed as one of the mechanisms by which HIV affects immune functions in stages of infection where the number of infected cells is low. Indeed, in HIV-infected individuals both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells are primed for programmed cell death, which can be enhanced by polyclonal stimulation. Here, we investigated programmed death of T cells in all stages of HIV infection, including acute infection. In individuals with primary infection the number of T cells dying due to apoptosis was much higher than in the asymptomatic phase of infection and paralleled increased numbers of CD8+ cells. In asymptomatic HIV-infected individuals, cells were dying in increased percentages compared with noninfected controls, although at much lower numbers than during acute infection. Death of T cells was not quantitatively correlated with CD4+ T cell numbers or appearance of more cytopathic, syncytium-inducing HIV variants. Analysis of the phenotype of cells undergoing apoptosis revealed that cell death was not confined to a specific T cell subset nor correlated with expression of certain T cell activation markers. Our results imply that the extent of programmed cell death of T cells in HIV infection does not correlate with progression to disease.

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