Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950)

HIV-specific cytotoxic cell frequencies measured directly ex vivo by the Lysispot assay can be higher or lower than the frequencies of IFN-gamma-secreting cells: anti-HIV cytotoxicity is not generally impaired relative to other chronic virus responses.

PMID 16456029


CD8(+) T cells in HIV-infected patients are believed to contribute to the containment of the virus and the delay of disease progression. However, the frequencies of HIV-specific CD8(+) T cells, as measured by IFN-gamma secretion and tetramer binding, often do not correlate with a delay in disease progression during chronic infection. Using the Lysispot and ELISPOT assays, we measured the frequencies of cytotoxic and IFN-gamma-secreting T cells responding to overlapping peptides from Gag, Nef, Env, and Pol consensus HIV-1 clade B sequences. PBMC from the majority of HIV-infected subjects have significant frequencies of HIV-specific cells that killed targets within 5 h directly ex vivo. The relative frequencies of IFN-gamma-secreting and cytotoxic cells varied markedly between different HIV peptide pools within the same patient, and some T cells lysed targets without secreting IFN-gamma. These results indicate that measurement of IFN-gamma production alone may be insufficient to evaluate the breadth of the HIV-specific T cell response. Also, neither the CTL to IFN-gamma ratios nor the ex vivo CTL frequencies specific for different HIV proteins were consistently lower than responses specific for two other chronic viral infections, human CMV and EBV, within the same subjects. Thus ex vivo cytotoxic T cell frequencies do not provide evidence for a model of "preterminal differentiation" of HIV-specific CD8(+) T cells during chronic HIV infection. Analysis of the frequency of directly cytotoxic HIV-specific T cells may be of considerable value in the assessment of disease progression and the potential efficacy of HIV vaccines.