Objective: To study the TH1-->TH2 cytokine switch, thought to occur during the progression of HIV infection.
Design: We investigated interleukin (IL)-2, interferon (IFN)-gamma, IL-4, IL-6 and IL-10 production by phytohaemagglutinin (PHA)-stimulated and unstimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) cultures from HIV-negative controls and HIV-positive subjects, stratified according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria. We correlated the above parameters with markers of disease progression.
Methods: Cytokine production was measured in supernatants using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in 40 patients and 17 controls. To evaluate disease progression, we also determined CD4+ cell counts, PHA-induced proliferative response, p24 release and spontaneous immunoglobulin (Ig) G and IgM production.
Results: In agreement with the TH1-->TH2 switch hypothesis, we found that in the course of HIV disease mitogen-stimulated IL-2 production decreased, spontaneous and stimulated IL-6 production and spontaneous IL-10 secretion increased; IL-4 showed an increasing trend, although it was reduced in HIV-positive subjects. Finally, immunoglobulin production increased over time. In contrast, mitogen-stimulated IFN-gamma and IL-10 production did not change among the CDC categories, although the former decreased and the latter increased in comparison with HIV-negative controls.
Conclusions: Our data partially agree with the TH1-->TH2 switch hypothesis. Since IL-6 and IL-10 are produced by different cell types, whose proportions and functional features vary in the course of the disease, further experiments with purified lymphocyte subsets and monocytes are required. Nevertheless, as already suggested, we believe that a switch from a type 1 to a type 2 response occurs in HIV infection.