Chronic HIV-1 infection is generally characterized by progressive CD4+ T cell depletion due to direct and bystander death that is closely associated with persistent HIV-1 replication and an inflammatory environment in vivo. The mechanisms underlying the loss of CD4+ T cells in patients with chronic HIV-1 infection are incompletely understood. In this study, we simultaneously monitored caspase-1 and caspase-3 activation in circulating CD4+ T cells, which revealed that pyroptotic and apoptotic CD4+ T cells are distinct cell populations with different phenotypic characteristics. Levels of pyroptosis and apoptosis in CD4+ T cells were significantly elevated during chronic HIV-1 infection, and decreased following effective antiretroviral therapy. Notably, the occurrence of pyroptosis was further confirmed by elevated gasdermin D activation in lymph nodes of HIV-1–infected individuals. Mechanistically, caspase-1 activation closely correlated with the inflammatory marker expression and was shown to occur through NLRP3 inflammasome activation driven by virus-dependent and/or -independent ROS production, while caspase-3 activation in CD4+ T cells was more closely related to T cell activation status. Hence, our findings show that NLRP3-dependent pyroptosis plays an essential role in CD4+ T cell loss in HIV-1–infected patients and implicate pyroptosis signaling as a target for anti–HIV-1 treatment.
Chao Zhang, Jin-Wen Song, Hui-Huang Huang, Xing Fan, Lei Huang, Jian-Ning Deng, Bo Tu, Kun Wang, Jing Li, Ming-Ju Zhou, Cui-Xian Yang, Qi-Wen Zhao, Tao Yang, Li-Feng Wang, Ji-Yuan Zhang, Ruo-Nan Xu, Yan-Mei Jiao, Ming Shi, Feng Shao, Rafick-Pierre Sékaly, Fu-Sheng Wang