Objective: To test the T-helper (TH)1/TH2 cytokine paradigm in HIV infection.
Design and methods: Cytokine profiles in two separate studies of HIV patients and controls are presented: (i) a longitudinal study of HIV patients with CD4 counts > 500 x 10(6)/l tested at three timepoints compared with controls; (ii) a blinded cross-sectional study of controls and patients with high (> 500 x 10(6)/l) and low (< 500 x 10(6)/l) CD4 counts. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from patients and controls were tested for the production of two type 1 [interleukin (IL)-2, interferon (IFN)-gamma] and two type 2 (IL-4, IL-10) cytokines by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Both spontaneous and mitogen-induced cytokine production was measured.
Results: HIV infection was noted to have the following effects on cytokine production: (i) it led to the in vivo activation of type 2 cytokines in a small group of individuals with high CD4 numbers characterized by the spontaneous release of IL-4 and IL-10. Longitudinal data showed high spontaneous IL-4 and IL-10 to be a consistent feature of the patient group (at each timepoint some patients were high producers) but to be variable in a given individual; (ii) HIV infection impaired the ability of PBMC to respond to stimuli (selected for their ability to optimally induce each cytokine) in terms of IL-2, IL-4 and IL-10 production in patients with both high and low CD4 cell counts; and (iii) conversely, HIV infection led to an overproduction of IFN-gamma in patients with high CD4 counts; patients with low CD4 produced normal levels of IFN-gamma.
Conclusions: Our observations did not suggest polarization of the type 1/type 2 cytokine profile in HIV patients. Instead, the data suggested more complex changes to type 1/type 2 cytokine patterns in HIV infection than originally proposed by the TH1/TH2 dichotomy.