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Research Article

Determination of antigen-specific memory/effector CD4+ T cell frequencies by flow cytometry: evidence for a novel, antigen-specific homeostatic mechanism in HIV-associated immunodeficiency.

S L Waldrop, C J Pitcher, D M Peterson, V C Maino and L J Picker

Department of Pathology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas 75235, USA.

Published April 1, 1997

The highly regulated secretion of effector cytokines by CD4+ T cells plays a critical role in immune protection against pathogens such as cytomegalovirus. Here, we directly compare the frequency and functional characteristics of cytomegalovirus-specific CD4+ memory/effector T cells in normal and HIV+ subjects using a novel, highly efficient multiparameter flow cytometric assay that detects the rapid intracellular accumulation of cytokine(s) after short-term (6 h) in vitro antigen stimulation. Responses in this assay correlate precisely with independent measures of sensitization history (e.g., seroreactivity), and allow the simultaneous assessment of multiple cytokines in single effector T cells. Healthy HIV- individuals manifested an average of 0.71, 0.72, 0.38, and 0.06% CD4+ T cells responding to cytomegalovirus with gamma-IFN, TNF-alpha, IL-2, and IL-4 production, respectively, with the simultaneous production of gamma-IFN, TNF-alpha, and IL-2 being the most common effector phenotype. Significantly, overall cytomegalovirus-specific CD4+ effector frequencies were markedly higher among 40% of HIV+ subjects (2.7-8.0%), and demonstrated a predominately polarized gamma-IFN+/TNF-alpha+/IL-2-/IL-4- phenotype. In contrast, CD4+ effector frequencies for heterologous, nonubiquitous viruses such as the mumps virus were low or absent in the HIV+ group. These data suggest the existence of homeostatic mechanisms in HIV disease that selectively preserve memory T cell populations reactive with ubiquitous pathogens such as cytomegalovirus-likely at the expense of T cell memory to more sporadically encountered infectious agents.

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