Th1/17 Polarization of CD4 T Cells Supports HIV-1 Persistence during Antiretroviral Therapy

J Virol. 2015 Nov;89(22):11284-93. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01595-15. Epub 2015 Sep 2.


The ability to persist long term in latently infected CD4 T cells represents a characteristic feature of HIV-1 infection and the predominant barrier to efforts aiming at viral eradication and cure. Yet, increasing evidence suggests that only small subsets of CD4 T cells with specific developmental and maturational profiles are able to effectively support HIV-1 long-term persistence. Here, we analyzed how the functional polarization of CD4 T cells shapes and structures the reservoirs of HIV-1-infected cells. We found that CD4 T cells enriched for a Th1/17 polarization had elevated susceptibilities to HIV-1 infection in ex vivo assays, harbored high levels of HIV-1 DNA in persons treated with antiretroviral therapy, and made a disproportionately increased contribution to the viral reservoir relative to their contribution to the CD4 T memory cell pool. Moreover, HIV-1 DNA levels in Th1/17 cells remained stable over many years of antiretroviral therapy, resulting in a progressively increasing contribution of these cells to the viral reservoir, and phylogenetic studies suggested preferential long-term persistence of identical viral sequences during prolonged antiretroviral treatment in this cell compartment. Together, these data suggest that Th1/17 CD4 T cells represent a preferred site for HIV-1 DNA long-term persistence in patients receiving antiretroviral therapy.

Importance: Current antiretroviral therapy is very effective in suppressing active HIV-1 replication but does not fully eliminate virally infected cells. The ability of HIV-1 to persist long term despite suppressive antiretroviral combination therapy represents a perplexing aspect of HIV-1 disease pathogenesis, since most HIV-1 target cells are activated, short-lived CD4 T cells. This study suggests that CD4 T helper cells with Th1/17 polarization have a preferential role as a long-term reservoir for HIV-1 infection during antiretroviral therapy, possibly because these cells may imitate some of the functional properties traditionally attributed to stem cells, such as the ability to persist for extremely long periods of time and to repopulate their own pool size through homeostatic self-renewal. These observations support the hypothesis that HIV-1 persistence is driven by small subsets of long-lasting stem cell-like CD4 T cells that may represent particularly promising targets for clinical strategies aiming at HIV-1 eradication and cure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Base Sequence
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • Cell Polarity / immunology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • HIV-1 / genetics
  • HIV-1 / immunology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Th1 Cells / immunology*
  • Th1 Cells / virology
  • Th17 Cells / immunology*
  • Th17 Cells / virology
  • Th2 Cells / immunology
  • Th2 Cells / virology
  • Virus Latency / genetics*
  • Virus Replication / genetics


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • DNA, Viral