High Number of Activated CD8+ T Cells Targeting HIV Antigens Are Present in Cerebrospinal Fluid in Acute HIV Infection

J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 May 1;75(1):108-117. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001301.


Background: Central nervous system (CNS) infiltration by CD8 T cells is associated with neuroinflammation in many neurodegenerative diseases, including HIV-associated dementia. However, the role of CD8 T cells in the CNS during acute HIV infection (AHI) is unknown.

Methods: We analyzed the phenotype, gene expression, T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire, and HIV specificity of CD8 T cells in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of a unique cohort captured during the earliest stages of AHI (n = 26), chronic (n = 23), and uninfected (n = 8).

Results: CSF CD8 T cells were elevated in AHI compared with uninfected controls. The frequency of activated CSF CD8 T cells positively correlated to CSF HIV RNA and to markers of CNS inflammation. In contrast, activated CSF CD8 T cells during chronic HIV infection were associated with markers of neurological injury and microglial activation. CSF CD8 T cells in AHI exhibited increased functional gene expression profiles associated with CD8 T cells effector function, proliferation, and TCR signaling, a unique restricted TCR Vbeta repertoire and contained HIV-specific CD8 T cells directed to unique HIV epitopes compared with the periphery.

Conclusions: These results suggest that CSF CD8 T cells in AHI expanding in the CNS are functional and directed against HIV antigens. These cells could thus play a beneficial role protective of injury seen in chronic HIV infection if combination antiretroviral therapy is initiated early.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / cytology*
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / immunology*
  • HIV Antigens / immunology*
  • HIV Infections / immunology*
  • HIV Infections / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*


  • HIV Antigens