HIV-1 infection is characterized by profound depletion of CD161+ Th17 cells and gradual decline in regulatory T cells.
Prendergast A., Prado JG., Kang YH., Chen F., Riddell LA., Luzzi G., Goulder P., Klenerman P.
OBJECTIVE: CD4 T-cell depletion is central to HIV pathogenesis. However, the relative impact of HIV on Th17 and regulatory T cell (Treg) subsets remains unclear. CD161 CD4 cells are a recently identified, gut-homing Th17 precursor population. The balance between pro-inflammatory Th17 and immunoregulatory Tregs may be critical in HIV pathogenesis. This study addressed changes in CD161, Th17 and Treg subsets during untreated HIV infection. METHODS: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were isolated from HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected individuals and stained to characterize CD161 CD4 cells, Th17 cells [by elaboration of interleukin (IL)-17A], Tregs (CD3CD4CD25FoxP3 cells) and CD8 activation (CD38/HLA-DR cells). In-vitro infectability of CD161 and Th17 cells by HIV was assessed in healthy donor CD4 cells by intracellular p24 expression. RESULTS: Peripheral blood Th17 cells were depleted 10-fold in HIV-infected, compared to HIV-uninfected individuals (P < 0.0001) across a range of disease stages, accompanied by a significant reduction of CD161 T cells (P = 0.024). Both Th17 cells and CD161 CD4 T cells were permissive to HIV replication in vitro. Profound loss of Th17 cells before the onset of advanced disease contrasted with a gradual decline in absolute Tregs during HIV disease progression in untreated individuals followed longitudinally (R = 0.71, P = 0.003). Loss of Tregs was associated with increased immune activation (R = -0.33, P = 0.03). CONCLUSION: HIV-infected individuals showed profound loss of Th17 cells, which may impair mucosal immunity, and reduced CD161 CD4 cells, which may limit Th17 reconstitution. A gradual decline in Tregs during disease progression was associated with increased immune activation.