Mechanisms of residual immune activation in HIV-1-infected human lymphoid tissue ex vivo

AIDS. 2021 Jul 1;35(8):1179-1190. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000002881.


Objective: HIV-1 infection triggers immune activation, as reflected by the upregulation of various cytokines. This immune activation remains elevated despite antiretroviral therapy (ART) and leads to early age-related diseases. Here, we addressed the mechanisms of sustained immune activation in HIV-1-infected human lymphoid tissues ex vivo.

Design/method: We investigated several potential causes of immunoactivation, including: a proinflammatory effect of ART drugs themselves; an early HIV-1-triggered cytokine storm, which could in turn trigger a sustained cytokine dysregulation; herpesvirus reactivation; HIV-1 protein release; and production of defective virions and extracellular vesicles. Tissue immune activation was evaluated from measurements of cytokines in culture medium using multiplexed immunoassays.

Results: Neither ART itself nor simulated cytokine storms nor exogenously added HIV-1 proteins triggered a sustained cytokine upregulation. In contrast, defective (replicative-incompetent) virions and extracellular vesicles induced sustained cytokine upregulation, as did infectious virus. Tissue immune activation was accompanied by reactivation of cytomegalovirus.

Conclusion: The system of ex-vivo human lymphoid tissue allowed investigation, under laboratory-controlled conditions, of possible mechanisms involved in persistent immune activation in HIV-1 patients under ART. Mechanisms of this immunoactivation identified in ex-vivo tissues may indicate potential therapeutic targets for restoration of immune system homeostasis in HIV-1-infected patients.

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • HIV Seropositivity*
  • HIV-1*
  • Humans
  • Lymphoid Tissue