The Relationship between AIDS and HIV
June 7, 2000
Mechanisms of CD4+ T Cell Depletion
HIV infects and kills CD4+ T lymphocytes in vitro, although scientists have developed immortalized T-cell lines in order to propagate HIV in the laboratory (Popovic et al., 1984; Zagury et al., 1986; Garry, 1989; Clark et al., 1991). Several mechanisms of CD4+ T cell killing have been observed in lentivirus systems in vitro and may explain the progressive loss of these cells in HIV-infected individuals (reviewed in Garry, 1989; Fauci, 1993a; Pantaleo et al., 1993a) (Table 2). These mechanisms include disruption of the cell membrane as HIV buds from the surface (Leonard et al., 1988) or the intracellular accumulation of heterodisperse RNAs and unintegrated DNA (Pauza et al., 1990; Koga et al., 1988). Evidence also suggests that intracellular complexing of CD4 and viral envelope products can result in cell killing (Hoxie et al., 1986).
A number of investigators have suggested that superantigens, either encoded by HIV or derived from unrelated agents, may trigger massive stimulation and expansion of CD4+ T cells, ultimately leading to depletion or anergy of these cells (Janeway, 1991; Hugin et al., 1991). The untimely induction of a form of programmed cell death called apoptosis has been proposed as an additional mechanism for CD4+ T cell loss in HIV infection (Ameisen and Capron, 1991; Terai et al., 1991; Laurent-Crawford et al., 1991). Recent reports indicate that apoptosis occurs to a greater extent in HIV-infected individuals than in non-infected persons, both in the peripheral blood and lymph nodes (Finkel et al., 1995; Pantaleo and Fauci, 1995b; Muro-Cacho et al., 1995).
It has also been observed that HIV infects precursors of CD4+ T cells in the bone marrow and thymus and damages the microenvironment of these organs necessary for the optimal sustenance and maturation of progenitor cells (Schnittman et al., 1990b; Stanley et al., 1992). These findings may help explain the lack of regeneration of the CD4+ T cell pool in patients with AIDS (Fauci, 1993a).
Recent studies have demonstrated a substantial viral burden and active viral replication in both the peripheral blood and lymphoid tissues even early in HIV infection (Fox et al., 1989; Coombs et al., 1989; Ho et al., 1989; Michael et al., 1992; Bagnarelli et al., 1992; Pantaleo et al., 1993b; Embretson et al., 1993; Piatak et al., 1993). One group has reported that 25 percent of CD4+ T cells in the lymph nodes of HIV-infected individuals harbor HIV DNA early in the course of disease (Embretson et al., 1993). Other data suggest that HIV infection is sustained by a dynamic process involving continuous rounds of new viral infection and the destruction and replacement of over 1 billion CD4+ T cells per day (Wei et al., 1995; Ho et al., 1995).
Taken together, these studies strongly suggest that HIV has a central role in the pathogenesis of AIDS, either directly or indirectly by triggering a series of pathogenic events that contribute to progressive immunosuppression.
This article was provided by U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.