amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Why Are Some T Cells Especially Prone to HIV Infection?

Jeffrey Laurence, M.D.

Activated CD4+ T cells have been known for some time as especially susceptible to HIV infection, and that they form the largest reservoir of latently infected cells. But not all CD4+ T cells contribute equally to the pool of such dormant infected cells.

Asier Sáez-CiriónDr. Asier Sáez-Cirión

amfAR grantees Asier Sáez-Cirión from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Nicolas Chomont of the University of Montreal, and other colleagues sought to determine if other features of subsets of T cells also contribute to their susceptibility to HIV infection and creation of a latent state.

Writing in the April issue of Cell Metabolism, they found that differences in susceptibility to HIV infection matched the level of metabolism of particular T cell subsets, and that this was true regardless of their activation profile. Cellular pathways linked to sugar metabolism and oxidation were particularly relevant. These metabolic distinctions were maintained in T cell subsets despite their state of activation.

Utilizing T cells from 6 HIV-positive donors who had maintained undetectable levels of virus after 3 to more than 16 years of antiretroviral therapy, the researchers showed that expression of certain genes important in cell metabolism correlated strongly with susceptibility to HIV infection. Moreover, partial inhibition of sugar metabolism in the test tube suppressed the susceptibility of these cells to HIV infection, and blocked amplification of the virus in cells from the HIV-infected individuals.

The authors concluded that their results “identify vulnerability in tackling HIV reservoirs.” These reservoirs are a major impediment to curing HIV, and such metabolic vulnerabilities may be targeted by new therapies.

Dr. Laurence is amfAR’s senior scientific consultant.