Hypermethylation at the CXCR5 gene locus limits trafficking potential of CD8+ T cells into B-cell follicles during HIV-1 infection

Blood Adv. 2022 Mar 22;6(6):1904-1916. doi: 10.1182/bloodadvances.2021006001.


CD8+ T cells play an important role in HIV control. However, in human lymph nodes (LNs), only a small subset of CD8+ T cells express CXCR5, the chemokine receptor required for cell migration into B-cell follicles, which are major sanctuaries for HIV persistence in individuals on therapy. Here, we investigate the impact of HIV infection on follicular CD8+ T cell (fCD8) frequencies, trafficking patterns, and CXCR5 regulation. We show that, although HIV infection results in a marginal increase in fCD8s in LNs, the majority of HIV-specific CD8+ T cells are CXCR5- (non-fCD8s) (P < .003). Mechanistic investigations using Assay for Transposase-Accessible Chromatin using sequencing showed that non-fCD8s have closed chromatin at the CXCR5 transcriptional start site (TSS). DNA bisulfite sequencing identified DNA hypermethylation at the CXCR5 TSS as the most probable cause of closed chromatin. Transcriptional factor footprint analysis revealed enrichment of transforming growth factors (TGFs) at the TSS of fCD8s. In vitro stimulation of non-fCD8s with recombinant TGF-β resulted in a significant increase in CXCR5 expression (fCD8s). Thus, this study identifies TGF-β signaling as a viable strategy for increasing fCD8 frequencies in follicular areas of the LN where they are needed to eliminate HIV-infected cells, with implications for HIV cure strategies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • B-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • HIV Infections* / genetics
  • HIV-1*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, CXCR5 / genetics
  • Receptors, CXCR5 / metabolism


  • CXCR5 protein, human
  • Receptors, CXCR5