We report significant upregulation of Galectin-9 (Gal-9) and VISTA on both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in HIV-infected human patients. Gal-9 and VISTA expression was associated with impaired T cells effector functions. Although Gal-9 was coexpressed with other coinhibitory receptors such as TIGIT, CD160, CD39, and VISTA, it was simultaneously coexpressed with PD-1. Coexpression of Gal-9 with PD-1 was associated with a more terminally exhausted T cell phenotype in HIV-1 patients. This was marked by higher expression of EOMES, blimp1, and Glut1 in Gal-9+ versus Gal-9- T cells, which is consistent with an exhausted T cell phenotype. Gal-9+ T cells exhibited the phenotype characteristics of effector T cells (CD45RA+, CD45RO-/lo, CD62L-, CD27lo) with higher T-bet expression. A positive correlation between the plasma viral load with the plasma Gal-9 levels in treatment-naive HIV patients and an inverse correlation between CD4 count with the frequency of CD4+Gal-9+ T cells were observed. Increased percentages of Gal-9+ T cells was evident in HIV-treated patients. Enhanced expression of Gal-9 on T cells following PMA stimulation via protein kinase C suggests persistent TCR stimulation as a potential contributing factor in Gal-9 upregulation in HIV patients. This was supported by the constant degranulation of Gal-9+ T cells. Moreover, CD44 clustering by Gal-9 may influence cytoskeleton rearrangement and coclustering of CD3, which likely impact initiation of signal transduction via TCR. Our preliminary data also confirm upregulation of Gal-9 on T cells in hepatitis B virus and HPV infections. These results demonstrate a novel role for Gal-9 and VISTA in HIV pathogenesis.
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