Although CD8(+) T cells play an important role in the containment of adult HIV-1 replication, their role in infant HIV-1 infection is not as well understood. Impaired HIV-specific CD8(+) T cell responses may underlie the persistently high viral loads observed in infants. We examined the frequency and phenotype of infant HIV-specific CD8(+) T cells in 7 HIV-infected antiretroviral therapy-naïve infants during the first 2 years of life, using class I HLA tetramers and IFN-γ-ELISPOT. The frequency (0.088-3.9% of CD3(+)CD8(+) cells) and phenotype (CD27(+)CD28(-), CD45RA(+/-), CD57(+/-), HLA-DR(+), CD95(+)) of infant HIV-specific CD8(+) T cells were similar to reports in adults undergoing early infection. Unlike adults, at 23-24 months post-infection a high frequency of HIV-specific CD8(+) T cells expressed HLA-DR (mean 80%, range 68-85%) and CD95 (mean 88%, range 79-96%), suggesting sustained activation and vulnerability to apoptosis. Despite comparable expansion of HIV-specific CD8(+) T cells of a similar phenotype to adults during early infection, infant T cells failed to contain HIV-1 replication, and remained persistently activated and vulnerable to apoptosis during chronic infection.
Slyker, J. A., John-Stewart, G. C., Dong, T., Lohman-Payne, B., Reilly, M., Atzberger, A., … Rowland-Jones, S. L. (2011). Phenotypic characterization of HIV-specific CD8 + T cells during early and chronic infant HIV-1 infection. PLoS ONE, 6(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0020375