Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection exhibit a progressively marked decrease in the production of virus-induced interferon (IFN)-alpha, a finding that correlates with and is highly predictive of disease progression and opportunistic infections. The major IFN-alpha producing population has recently been defined as the precursor to type 2 dendritic cells (pDC2) or plasmacytoid DC (pDC). Using four-color flow cytometry, we have enumerated the pDC2 vs non-IFN-alpha producing myeloid DC1 in peripheral blood from HIV-infected patients and healthy controls and related these values to CD4 cell numbers, viral load, and functional activity. The patients had reductions in the numbers of both pDC2 (lin-/HLA-DR+/CD123(bright)) and DC1 (lin1-/HLA-DR+/CD123(dim)/CD11c+), both at an absolute level and as a percentage of cells. The decreases were most evident in patients with decreased CD4 levels. Viral load correlated with the functional frequency of the IFN producing cells but not with absolute pDC2 levels. Using intracellular flow cytometric analysis for IFN-alpha, the patients were demonstrated to have fewer pDC2, as well as a lower percentage of responding cells among those remaining. We conclude that deficient production of IFN-alpha by pDC2 from HIV-infected patients results from both selective loss of these cells and their qualitative dysfunction. Given the central role of DC, and in particular, DC2, in linking innate and adaptive immune responses, these qualitative and quantitative changes in pDC2 are likely to be key contributors to HIV pathogenesis.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.