Purpose of review: To understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of acute HIV pathogenesis.
Recent findings: Recent studies have given us new insights into the mechanisms of acute HIV pathogenesis by demonstrating the ‘systemic’ destruction of the CD4 memory T cell compartment. This destruction occurs well before the emergence of a strong and broad immune response, highlighting the failure of the immune response to contain early viral infection and destruction. However, recent data also suggest that very few founder populations of cells are infected early, at the portal of entry, making them ideal targets for vaccine-induced immune responses that may aid in the effective control of early infection and transmission.
Summary: HIV causes a massive destruction of memory CD4 T cells during the early acute phase of infection. This destruction proceeds largely in the absence of emerging antiviral immune responses, and severely disables the ability of the immune system to generate secondary immune responses. Early preservation of the memory CD4 compartment by shifting emphasis of antiretroviral therapeutic strategies to early treatment, and development of vaccines that can induce strong and broad immune responses, will be critical to prevent the destructive effects of early HIV infection.