Purpose of review: Most of the studies investigating antiviral immunity have predominantly focused on CD8 T cells. However, numerous recent studies have highlighted the importance of HIV-1-specific CD4 T cells in the antiviral immune response, and have also revealed the high level of complexity and heterogeneity of the virus-specific CD4 T-cell responses. An understanding of the role of these key players in the antiviral immune response is of fundamental importance.
Recent findings: A comprehensive investigation of several features of virus-specific CD4 T-cell responses, including the magnitude, breadth, function and phenotype, has recently been performed. In particular, HIV-1-specific CD4 T-cell responses have been studied in different stages of HIV-1 infection, i.e. acute and chronic phase, under conditions of spontaneous (long-term non-progressors) or antiviral therapy-mediated control of virus replication or uncontrolled virus replication. Different phenotypical and functional patterns of HIV-1-specific CD4 T-cell responses were associated with different conditions of controlled versus uncontrolled virus replication, thus allowing the identification of signatures of protective immune responses. Robust and diverse virus-specific CD4 T-cell responses have been observed. These responses, however, were not predictive of nonprogressive versus progressive HIV-1-associated disease.
Summary: There is an urgent need to delineate the immune correlates of protective T-cell responses in order to develop novel immunological markers to evaluate the degree of immune restoration of antiviral therapy as well as the potential effectiveness of HIV vaccine-induced T-cell immune responses.