Background: The capacity of the immune system of adolescents to generate and repopulate naive and memory cell populations under conditions of normal homeostasis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is largely unknown.
Objective: To assess lymphocyte subsets in HIV-infected and high-risk HIV-negative adolescents.
Design: The Reaching for Excellence in Adolescent Care and Health Project of the Adolescent Medicine HIV/AIDS Research Network recruits a cohort of HIV-infected and high-risk HIV-uninfected adolescents, aged 13 to 18 years 364 days, into a study of biomedical and behavioral features of HIV infection as seen in the context of full availability of primary care and HIV-related consultative services. Lymphocyte phenotypes were determined using standard 3-color flow cytometry.
Setting: The Reaching for Excellence in Adolescent Care and Health Project is carried out at 16 clinical sites in 14 urban areas.
Participants: T-lymphocyte subsets are reported in 192 HIV-positive and 78 HIV-negative youths.
Results: For HIV-positive subjects, the total CD4+ cell count and the percentage of CD4+ cells are decreased when compared with those of the HIV-negative controls (P<.001). The reduction in total CD4+ cells reflects a loss of naive, and memory, CD4+ cells compared with HIV-negative youths. Human immunodeficiency virus-infected adolescents, many of whom have been infected recently (ie, those with CD4+ cell counts > or =0.500 x 10(9)/L [500/microL]), have a significant increase in naive CD8+ cells compared with HIV-negative youths (P<.01). There also is a significant increase in memory CD8+ cells at all strata of total CD4+ cells compared with HIV-negative youths (P<.01). The increase in naive CD8+ cells in those subjects with CD4+ cell counts of 0.500 x 10(9)/L or greater is a unique finding in this cohort.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates high levels of naive CD8+ cells in response to HIV infection in adolescents with CD4+ cell counts of 0.500 X 10(9)/L or greater. The presence of high levels of naive CD8+ cells suggests functioning thymic tissue in some adolescents infected with HIV. Furthermore, the normal level of naive CD4+ cells in adolescents with CD4+ levels of 0.500 x 10(9)/L or greater provides additional support for the concept of a more robust immune system in HIV-infected adolescents compared with HIV-infected adults. These observations suggest that the immune system of HIV-infected adolescents may be capable of better responses to neoantigens and cytotoxic T-lymphocyte responses to HIV than the immune system of infected children or adults. Human immunodeficiency virus-infected adolescents may have an immune system that is capable of reconstitution following highly active antiretroviral therapy.