Dendritic cells (DC) exposed to HIV-1 show nonproductive infection that may become productive as they mature. The distribution of DC within genital mucosa and their susceptibility to infection particularly with clade E viruses could be reflected in the ease of heterosexual transmission. Carriage of virus and viral antigen by DC into lymph nodes may allow clustering and activation of T cells and production of protective immune responses. However, secondary infection of activated T cells from infected DC could cause dissemination of virus and loss of infected DC and T cells. In asymptomatic infection, fewer dendritic cells with reduced capacity to stimulate CD4 T cell proliferation are found before evidence of T cell abnormalities, and these early changes in antigen-presenting cells may result in a decline in the production of CD4 memory T cells. However, DC fuel ongoing production of antibody to HIV-1. Signaling by DC to T cells may thus underlie two major features of early HIV infection—loss in CD4+ memory T cells and persistence of antibody production. In AIDS, infected dendritic and epithelial cells within the thymus may affect maturation and contribute to loss of the “naive” T cell population. Further loss of memory T cells may occur through syncytium formation with infected DC. Finally, in AIDS patients, there is a failure in the development and the function of DC from CD34+ stem cells. In conclusion, the infection of dendritic cells, loss in their numbers, and changed signaling to T cells may shape the pattern of immunity during infection with HIV-1. Conversely, treatments that reverse the defect in antigen presentation by DC may improve cell-mediated immunity.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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