Age-related expansion of Tim-3 expressing T cells in vertically HIV-1 infected children

PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e45733. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045733. Epub 2012 Sep 24.


As perinatally HIV-1-infected children grow into adolescents and young adults, they are increasingly burdened with the long-term consequences of chronic HIV-1 infection, with long-term morbidity due to inadequate immunity. In progressive HIV-1 infection in horizontally infected adults, inflammation, T cell activation, and perturbed T cell differentiation lead to an "immune exhaustion", with decline in T cell effector functions. T effector cells develop an increased expression of CD57 and loss of CD28, with an increase in co-inhibitory receptors such as PD-1 and Tim-3. Very little is known about HIV-1 induced T cell dysfunction in vertical infection. In two perinatally antiretroviral drug treated HIV-1-infected groups with median ages of 11.2 yr and 18.5 yr, matched for viral load, we found no difference in the proportion of senescent CD28(-)CD57(+)CD8(+) T cells between the groups. However, the frequency of Tim-3(+)CD8(+) and Tim-3(+)CD4(+) exhausted T cells, but not PD-1(+) T cells, was significantly increased in the adolescents with longer duration of infection compared to the children with shorter duration of HIV-1 infection. PD-1(+)CD8(+) T cells were directly associated with T cell immune activation in children. The frequency of Tim-3(+)CD8(+) T cells positively correlated with HIV-1 plasma viral load in the adolescents but not in the children. These data suggest that Tim-3 upregulation was driven by both HIV-1 viral replication and increased age, whereas PD-1 expression is associated with immune activation. These findings also suggest that the Tim-3 immune exhaustion phenotype rather than PD-1 or senescent cells plays an important role in age-related T cell dysfunction in perinatal HIV-1 infection. Targeting Tim-3 may serve as a novel therapeutic approach to improve immune control of virus replication and mitigate age related T cell exhaustion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Child
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / metabolism*
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • HIV-1
  • Hepatitis A Virus Cellular Receptor 2
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Viral Load


  • HAVCR2 protein, human
  • Hepatitis A Virus Cellular Receptor 2
  • Membrane Proteins