Cellular reservoirs of HIV-1 in the central nervous system of infected individuals: identification by the combination of in situ polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemistry

AIDS. 1996 Jun;10(6):573-85. doi: 10.1097/00002030-199606000-00002.


Objectives: The majority of HIV-1-infected individuals manifest a plethora of central nervous system (CNS) diseases unrelated to opportunistic infections, including AIDS dementia complex, encephalitis, and various other disorders of the CNS. The present study sought to evaluate the cellular reservoirs and expression patterns of HIV-1 in brain tissue to gain further understanding of HIV-1 neuropathogenesis.

Design: CNS tissue, obtained post-mortem from 22 patients with AIDS and four HIV-1-seronegative controls, was analyzed.

Methods: CNS samples were evaluated using a combination of in situ DNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR), reverse transcriptase (RT)-initiated in situ PCR, and immunohistochemistry. By utilizing this triple-staining methodology, HIV-1 proviral DNA and HIV-1-specific mRNA can be identified at the single cell level.

Results: HIV-1 was detected in all 22 AIDS brain specimens and in none of the four brains from HIV-1-seronegative individuals. The most commonly infected cells in AIDS brains were microglia cells and macrophages, but variable levels of HIV-1 infections were demonstrated in many of the major histological cell types within the CNS, including neurons, microvascular endothelial cells (MVEC) and astrocytes. The presence of HIV-1-infected cells was not uniform with infected cells unevenly distributed throughout the brain parenchyma. The degree of HIV-1 mRNA expression varied from 39-65% of the cells in the CNS harboring HIV-1 provirus. Choroid plexus and MVEC exhibited relatively high levels of productive infection.

Conclusion: These findings demonstrate that several cell types in the CNS, in addition to microglia or macrophages, may become infected with HIV-1 in vivo with variable levels of HIV-1 mRNA expression. The diverse cellular reservoirs for HIV-1 in the CNS may be critically linked to the molecular mechanisms involved in HIV-1 neuropathogenesis. In addition, in vivo infection of MVEC, and possibly cells in the choroid plexus, may directly contribute to penetration of the blood-brain barrier by HIV-1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / virology*
  • HIV Infections / pathology
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • HIV-1 / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods