High viral burden in the presence of major HIV-specific CD8(+) T cell expansions: evidence for impaired CTL effector function.
Kostense S., Ogg GS., Manting EH., Gillespie G., Joling J., Vandenberghe K., Veenhof EZ., van Baarle D., Jurriaans S., Klein MR., Miedema F.
To investigate the effect of HIV-specific CD8(+) T cells on viral plasma load and disease progression, we enumerated HLA-A2-, B8- and B57-restricted CD8(+) T cells directed against several HIV epitopes in a total of 54 patients by the use of tetrameric HLA-peptide complexes. In patients with high CD4(+) T cell numbers, HIV-specific tetramer(+) cells inversely correlated with viral load. Patients with CD4(+) T cell numbers below 400/microl blood, however, carried high viral load despite frequently having high tetramer(+) T cell numbers. This lack of correlation between viral load and tetramer(+) cells did not result from viral escape variants, as in only 4 of 13 patients, low frequencies of viruses with mutated epitopes were observed. In 15 patients we measured CD8(+) T cell antigen responsiveness to HIV peptide stimulation in vitro. FACS analyses showed differential IFN-gamma production of the tetramer(+) cells, and this proportion of IFN-gamma-producing tetramer(+) cells correlated with AIDS-free survival and with T cell maturation to the CD27(-) effector stage. These data show that most HIV-infected patients have sustained HIV-specific T cell expansions but many of these cells seem not to be functional, leaving the patient with high numbers of non-functional virus-specific CD8(+) T cells in the face of high viral burden.