Maintenance of large numbers of virus-specific CD8+ T cells in HIV-infected progressors and long-term nonprogressors

The virus-specific CD8+ T cell responses of 21 HIV-infected patients were studied including a unique cohort of long-term nonprogressors with low levels of plasma viral RNA and strong proliferative responses to HIV Ags. HIV-specific CD8+ T cell responses were studied by a combination of standard cytotoxic T cell (CTL) assays, MHC tetramers, and TCR repertoire analysis.

The frequencies of CD8+ T cells specific to the majority of HIV gene products were measured by flow cytometric detection of intracellular IFN-gamma in response to HIV-vaccinia recombinant-infected autologous B cells.

Very high frequencies (0.8-18.0%) of circulating CD8+ T cells were found to be HIV specific. High frequencies of HIV-specific CD8+ T cells were not limited to long-tern nonprogressors with restriction of plasma virus. No correlation was found between the frequency of HIV-specific CD8+ T cells and levels of plasma viraemia. In each case, the vast majority of cells (up to 17.2%) responded to gag-pol.

Repertoire analysis showed these large numbers of Ag-specific cells were scattered throughout the repertoire and in the majority of cases not contained within large monoclonal expansions. These data demonstrate that high numbers of HIV-specific CD8+ T cells exist even in patients with high-level viraemia and progressive disease. Further, they suggest that other qualitative parameters of the CD8+ T cell response may differentiate some patients with very low levels of plasma virus and nonprogressive disease.


Gea-Banacloche JC, Migueles SA, Martino L et al. J Immunol 2000 Jul 15;165(2):1082-1092.

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