Background: Residual HIV-1-infected cells are poorly eliminated from lymphoid tissue (LT) reservoirs by effector cytotoxic T lymphocytes (eCTL) despite antiretroviral therapy. Perforin and granzyme A (grA) constitute major effector molecules within eCTL granules that induce apoptosis and lysis of virally infected cells.
Objective: Expression of perforin and grA was studied at the single cell level in LT and blood from 16 patients infected with HIV-1 (stage A1-C) who were not taking antiretroviral therapy.
Method: Immunohistochemical analysis by in situ imaging of cells from blood and LT.
Results: Quantitative in situ imaging showed that perforin-expressing CD8 T cells comprised 0.3-1.5% of total cells within the LT from recent HIV-1 seroconverters, while grA was found in 2.1-7.2% of total cells. However, despite high-level grA upregulation (1.5-4.5% of total cells) compared with that in non-infected individuals (0.4-0.9%), perforin expression remained low (< 0.1% of total cells) (P < 0.02) in LT from patients with chronic HIV-1 infection (stage A2-C). This contrasted with findings in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from the same HIV-1 infected cohort where perforin was detected in 13-31% of all PBMC, which was 10- to 100-fold higher than in lymphoid tissue (P < 0.001); grA was found in 14-32% of total PBMC. Two-colour staining showed that granular expression of perforin and grA was restricted to CD8 T cells in over 90% of total cells in both LT and blood.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that cytotoxic perforin expression is impaired at local sites of HIV replication within lymphoid tissue. Since perforin is required together with grA for granule-mediated cytolysis, the low perforin expression in the LT may limit the ability of eCTL to eliminate HIV-1 infected cells in lymphoid tissue.