Purpose of review: Many treated HIV-infected persons maintain persistently high circulating CD8 T cell numbers, even after many years of therapy. Recent reports have suggested that persistent CD8 T cell expansion is associated with higher risk of morbid non-AIDS events. Thus, assessing the mechanisms of CD8 T cell expansion and persistence may give insights into a feature of HIV disease that is clinically important.
Recent findings: Acute HIV infection is associated with activation and expansion of the CD8 T cell compartment. Expanded CD8 T cells persist throughout the disease course, and in contrast to the plasticity that typically characterizes immune responses to most other pathogens, circulating CD8 T cell numbers do not normalize in many patients despite pharmacologic suppression of HIV replication. We suspect that residual inflammation in treated HIV infection contributes to antigen-independent CD8 T cell expansion and persistence as most of these cells are not HIV-reactive.
Summary: Circulating CD8 T cell numbers remain abnormally elevated in many treated HIV-infected patients and this elevation is associated with adverse clinical events. Future studies will be needed to assess the mechanisms of CD8 T cell expansion and to define the role of CD8 lymphocytosis in the clinical course of treated HIV disease.