Markers of immune cell activation and disease progression. Cell activation in HIV disease

Adv Exp Med Biol. 1995;374:17-26. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-1995-9_2.


Immune cell activation is a feature of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Here we report our studies on a cohort of over 400 patients with HIV infection studied cross-sectionally and longitudinally to examine the relationship between markers of immune cell activation and disease progression. To examine disease progression, 340 patients with HIV infection but without AIDS were followed for a total of 574 patient years, during which 56 developed AIDS. In our first study, 157 patients in CDC groups II-IV were examined cross-sectionally for in vivo expression of the activation markers HLA-DR and CD25 on CD3, CD4 and CD8 T cells. Levels of CD3+ HLA-DR+ T cells are high in HIV infection and show a significant negative correlation with CD4 counts (r = 0.52; p < 0.001). The appearance of HLA-DR+ CD3+ T cells is an early feature of asymptomatic HIV+ patients, with a greater proportion (82%) showing abnormally high levels of these than abnormally low levels of CD4 (52%; p < 0.001). Examining activation of the CD4 subset specifically is likely to be of greater interest, given that this cell is the viral target. Indeed, we found that in the cross-sectional study, levels of HLA-DR+ and CD25+ CD4 lymphocytes show a step-wise linear increase with increasing disease severity (significant test for linear trend; p < 0.001). In our previous studies, only declining CD4 count has shown such a significant linear trend. These data suggest that measuring activated CD4+ T cells in the periphery may be a powerful predictive tool. In our second study, we examined the expression of other markers acquired (CD45R0) and lost (CD45RA) following activation of naïve T cells. Examining expression of these on CD4 and CD8 cells cross-sectionally in 71 HIV+ patients, we found abnormalities in percentage levels of CD45RA+ and CD45R0+ populations, none of which showed any relationship to disease severity. Intriguingly, however, we noted that the surface density of both CD45RA and CD45R0 molecules on CD4 and CD8 cells was markedly and significantly reduced at all stages of HIV infection (eg relative specific fluorescence reduced by up to 50%; p < 0.001). This abnormality was confirmed in studies using antibodies to a common epitope on all CD45 isoforms (pan-CD45) and to the CD45RB isoform. Finally, returning to the question of immune cell markers of activation and disease progression, we have examined some of the best documented markers in our longitudinal study.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • HIV Infections / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Male
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*


  • Biomarkers