The most widely accepted theory for the massive depletion of CD4] T
cells in HIV-1 infection involves depletion of non-infected cells
through immune activation. A specialized cell population, the T
regulatory cells (Tregs), exists to help limit chronic inflammation
by suppressing the immune activation induced by infectious
diseases. We used an SIV/pigtailed macaque model of HIV-1 disease
to elucidate the role of Tregs in HIV-1-induced depletion of CD4+ T
cells in lymphoid tissue during the acute phase of infection. From
this model, we learned that Tregs play a significant role in
controlling the apoptotic loss of CD4+ T cells resulting from high
levels of generalized immune activation. Using assays developed in
the macaque model, we next studied the role of Tregs in elite
suppressors who are HIaV-1-infected individuals that maintain
normal CD4+ T cell counts and control viremia without therapy. The
assays developed in our laboratory should be especially useful to
the future studies of both virologists and immunologists.
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