Background: The major targets of HIV infection in humans are CD4⁺ T cells. CD4⁺ T cell depletion is a hallmark of AIDS. Previously, the SCID-hu thy/liv model was used to study the effect of HIV on thymopoeisis in vivo. However, these mice did not develop high levels of peripheral T cell reconstitution and required invasive surgery for infection and analysis. Here, we describe a novel variant of this model in which thy/liv implantation results in systemic reconstitution with human T cells in the absence of any other human hematopoietic lineages.
Results: NOD/SCID-hu thy/liv and NSG-hu thy/liv mice were created by implanting human fetal thymus and liver tissues under the kidney capsule of either NOD/SCID or NSG mice. In contrast to NOD/SCID-hu thy/liv mice that show little or no human cells in peripheral blood or tissues, substantial systemic human reconstitution occurs in NSG-hu thy/liv. These mice are exclusively reconstituted with human T cells (i.e. T-cell only mice or TOM). Despite substantial levels of human T cells no signs of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) were noted in these mice over a period of 14 months. TOM are readily infected after parenteral exposure to HIV-1. HIV replication is sustained in peripheral blood at high levels and results in modest reduction of CD4⁺ T cells. HIV-1 replication in TOM responds to daily administration of combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) resulting in strong suppression of virus replication as determined by undetectable viral load in plasma. Latently HIV infected resting CD4⁺ T cells can be isolated from suppressed mice that can be induced to express HIV ex-vivo upon activation demonstrating the establishment of latency in vivo.
Conclusions: NSG-hu thy/liv mice are systemically reconstituted with human T cells. No other human lymphoid lineages are present in these mice (i.e. monocytes/macrophages, B cells and DC are all absent). These T cell only mice do not develop GVHD, are susceptible to HIV-1 infection and can efficiently maintain virus replication. HIV infected TOM undergoing ART harbor latently infected, resting CD4+ T cells.