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Ragon Institute study finds HIV-specific CD4 cells that control viral levels
Date:2/29/2012

A subpopulation of the immune cells targeted by HIV may play an important role in controlling viral loads after initial infection, potentially helping to determine how quickly infection will progress. In the February 29 issue of Science Translational Medicine, a team of researchers from the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), MIT and Harvard describe finding a population of HIV-specific CD4 T cells cells traditionally thought to direct and support activities of other immune cells that can directly kill HIV-infected cells.

"We observed the emergence of CD4 T cells able to kill HIV-infected cells in those patients who are able to control viral replication soon after acute infection," says Hendrik Streeck, MD, PhD, a Ragon Institute faculty member and senior author of the report. "These cells appear very early in HIV infection, and we believe they may set the stage for the course of the disease."

The primary role of CD4 T cells is to assist other cells of the immune system; and their importance is illustrated by how completely the immune response collapses after the cells, the main cellular targets of HIV, are destroyed. Ironically, CD4 cells that are specifically targeted against HIV are preferentially infected and depleted by the virus.

However, although HIV-specific CD4 cells have not been a major focus of vaccine research, these cells may have an important role in controlling HIV infection. "Every successful licensed vaccine induces CD4 T cell responses to some extent," Streeck explains, "and we know from many other viral infections that the success of the immune system in gaining control is best achieved in the presence of strong CD4 T cell responses."

To investigate whether CD4 T cell responses are important in the early control of HIV infection, the Ragon Institute team enrolled a group of 11 volunteers who were in the earliest stages of HIV infection, a time when viral levels are exceedin
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Contact: Sarah Dionne
smdionne@partners.org
617-726-6126
Massachusetts General Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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