HIV-1 replication is concentrated within CD4+ T cells in B cell follicles of secondary lymphoid tissues during asymptomatic disease. Limited data suggest that a subset of T follicular helper cells (TFH) within germinal centers (GC) is highly permissive to HIV-1. Whether GC TFH are the major HIV-1 virus-producing cells in vivo has not been established. In this study, we investigated TFH permissivity to HIV-1 ex vivo by spinoculating and culturing tonsil cells with HIV-1 GFP reporter viruses. Using flow cytometry, higher percentages of GC TFH (CXCR5highPD-1high) and CXCR5+programmed cell death-1 (PD-1)low cells were GFP+ than non-GC TFH (CXCR5+PD-1intermediate) or extrafollicular (EF) (CXCR5-) cells. When sorted prior to spinoculation, however, GC TFH were substantially more permissive than CXCR5+PD-1low or EF cells, suggesting that many GC TFH transition to a CXCR5+PD-1low phenotype during productive infection. In situ hybridization on inguinal lymph node sections from untreated HIV-1-infected individuals without AIDS revealed higher frequencies of HIV-1 RNA+ cells in GC than non-GC regions of follicle or EF regions. Superinfection of HIV-1-infected individuals' lymph node cells with GFP reporter virus confirmed the permissivity of follicular cells ex vivo. Lymph node immunostaining revealed 96% of CXCR5+CD4+ cells were located in follicles. Within sorted lymph node cells from four HIV-infected individuals, CXCR5+ subsets harbored 11-66-fold more HIV-1 RNA than CXCR5- subsets, as determined by RT PCR. Thus, GC TFH are highly permissive to HIV-1, but downregulate PD-1 and, to a lesser extent, CXCR5 during HIV-1 replication. These data further implicate GC TFH as the major HIV-1-producing cells in chronic asymptomatic HIV-1 infection.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy