Granzyme B+ CD4 T cells accumulate in the colon during chronic HIV-1 infection

Gut Microbes. 2022 Jan-Dec;14(1):2045852. doi: 10.1080/19490976.2022.2045852.


Chronic HIV-1 infection results in the sustained disruption of gut homeostasis culminating in alterations in microbial communities (dysbiosis) and increased microbial translocation. Major questions remain on how interactions between translocating microbes and gut immune cells impact HIV-1-associated gut pathogenesis. We previously reported that in vitro exposure of human gut cells to enteric commensal bacteria upregulated the serine protease and cytotoxic marker Granzyme B (GZB) in CD4 T cells, and GZB expression was further increased in HIV-1-infected CD4 T cells. To determine if these in vitro findings extend in vivo, we evaluated the frequencies of GZB+ CD4 T cells in colon biopsies and peripheral blood of untreated, chronically infected people with HIV-1 (PWH). Colon and blood GZB+ CD4 T cells were found at significantly higher frequencies in PWH. Colon, but not blood, GZB+ CD4 T cell frequencies were associated with gut and systemic T cell activation and Prevotella species abundance. In vitro, commensal bacteria upregulated GZB more readily in gut versus blood or tonsil-derived CD4 T cells, particularly in inflammatory T helper 17 cells. Bacteria-induced GZB expression in gut CD4 T cells required the presence of accessory cells, the IL-2 pathway and in part, MHC Class II. Overall, we demonstrate that GZB+ CD4 T cells are prevalent in the colon during chronic HIV-1 infection and may emerge following interactions with translocated bacteria in an IL-2 and MHC Class II-dependent manner. Associations between GZB+ CD4 T cells, dysbiosis and T cell activation suggest that GZB+ CD4 T cells may contribute to gut HIV-1 pathogenesis.

Keywords: CD4 T cells; HIV; dysbiosis; granzyme B; gut.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Colon / pathology
  • Dysbiosis / complications
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Granzymes
  • HIV Infections*
  • HIV-1*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-2


  • Interleukin-2
  • Granzymes