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Mediators of Inflammation
Volume 4 (1995), Issue 5, Pages 315-321

The breakdown of the cytokine network subsequent to human immunodeficiency virus infection

1Cattedra di Immunologia, Università di Milano, Italy
2Experimental Immunology Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

Copyright © 1995 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The acquired immunodeflciency syndrome (AIDS) is a clinically multifaceted disease induced by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV infection results in a complex pattern of immunologic alterations that leads to the development of AIDS in the majority of HIV seropositive (HIV+) individuals. The reduction in CD4 T lymphocyte counts is the hallmark of HIV infection; nevertheless, long before the reduction in CD4 counts reaches critical levels, a series of profound and complex defects that impair the function of CD4 T lymphocytes can be detected. Thus, HIV infection is characterized by quantitative and qualitative defects affecting CD4 T lymphocytes. It was suggested recently that programmed cell death (PCD) is an important mechanism leading to CD4 depletion in HIV infection, and that susceptibility of peripheral lymphocytes to PCD is differentially regulated by diverse cytokines. Thus, type 1 cytokines would protect CD4 lymphocytes against PCD, whereas type 2 cytokines would not protect against, and could augment, PCD. We suggest that the qualitative alterations of the immune response provoke the CD4 depletion characteristic of HIV disease via type 2 cytokinemediated augmentation of PCD, and are therefore ultimately responsible for the progression of HIV infection. Finally, we summarize recent data showing that three correlates of disease progression: emergence of HIV strains with syncitium-inducing ability (SI), type 1-to-type 2 cytokine shift, and CD4 depletion, are significantly associated, suggesting a complex interconnected virologic-immunologic pathogenesis of HIV infection.