HIV preferentially infects HIV-specific CD4+ T cells

Nature. 2002 May 2;417(6884):95-8. doi: 10.1038/417095a.


HIV infection is associated with the progressive loss of CD4(+) T cells through their destruction or decreased production. A central, yet unresolved issue of HIV disease is the mechanism for this loss, and in particular whether HIV-specific CD4(+) T cells are preferentially affected. Here we show that HIV-specific memory CD4(+) T cells in infected individuals contain more HIV viral DNA than other memory CD4(+) T cells, at all stages of HIV disease. Additionally, following viral rebound during interruption of antiretroviral therapy, the frequency of HIV viral DNA in the HIV-specific pool of memory CD4(+) T cells increases to a greater extent than in memory CD4(+) T cells of other specificities. These findings show that HIV-specific CD4(+) T cells are preferentially infected by HIV in vivo. This provides a potential mechanism to explain the loss of HIV-specific CD4(+) T-cell responses, and consequently the loss of immunological control of HIV replication. Furthermore, the phenomenon of HIV specifically infecting the very cells that respond to it adds a cautionary note to the practice of structured therapy interruption.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-HIV Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / virology*
  • Cell Division
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA, Viral / blood
  • HIV / genetics
  • HIV / isolation & purification
  • HIV / physiology*
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Male
  • Organ Specificity
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Viral Load


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • DNA, Viral
  • Interferon-gamma