Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects human arterial smooth muscle cells in vivo and in vitro: implications for the pathogenesis of HIV-mediated vascular disease

Am J Pathol. 2008 Apr;172(4):1100-11. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2008.070457. Epub 2008 Feb 29.


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is associated with accelerated atherosclerosis and vasculopathy, although the mechanisms underlying these findings have not been determined. Hypotheses for these observations include: 1) an increase in the prevalence of established cardiac risk factors observed in HIV-infected individuals who are currently experiencing longer life expectancies; 2) the dyslipidemia reported with certain HIV anti-retroviral therapies; and/or 3) the proinflammatory effects of infiltrating HIV-infected monocytes/macrophages. An unexplored possibility is whether HIV itself can infect vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs) and, by doing so, whether SMCs can accelerate vascular disease. Our studies demonstrate that human SMCs can be infected with HIV both in vivo and in vitro. The HIV protein p24 was detected by fluorescence confocal microscopy in SMCs from tissue sections of human atherosclerotic plaques obtained from HIV-infected individuals. Human SMCs could also be infected in vitro with HIV by a mechanism dependent on CD4, the chemokine receptors CXCR4 or CCR5, and endocytosis, resulting in a marked increase in SMC secretion of the chemokine CCL2/MCP-1, which has been previously shown to be a critical mediator of atherosclerosis. In addition, SMC proliferation appeared concentric to the vessel lumen, and minimal inflammation was detected, unlike typical atherosclerosis. Our data suggest that direct infection of human arterial SMCs by HIV represents a potential mechanism in a multifactorial paradigm to explain the exacerbated atherosclerosis and vasculopathy reported in individuals infected with HIV.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arteries / pathology
  • Arteries / virology*
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology
  • Atherosclerosis / virology
  • CD4 Antigens / metabolism
  • Chemokine CCL2 / metabolism
  • Endocytosis
  • Female
  • HIV / physiology*
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • HIV-1 / physiology
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / virology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes / virology
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / pathology*
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / virology*
  • Receptors, Chemokine / metabolism
  • Vascular Diseases / pathology*
  • Vascular Diseases / virology*


  • CD4 Antigens
  • Chemokine CCL2
  • Receptors, Chemokine