Recent evidence suggests that T cell apoptosis could be involved in the pathogenesis of HIV infection. In addition, lymphocyte apoptosis has been described in SIV-infected macaques that developed simian AIDS. To investigate further the role of apoptosis in AIDS pathogenesis, we studied lymphocytes of HIV-2-infected cynomolgus macaques that did not develop simian AIDS. We compared apoptosis of lymphocytes from animals infected with non-pathogenic HIV-2 to that in macaques infected with pathogenic SIV. Unfractionated peripheral blood mononuclear cells of SIV- and HIV-2-infected macaques showed evidence of apoptosis by electron microscopy, flow cytometry (terminal dUTP nick end labelling) and visualization of DNA fragmentation. Between 30–50% apoptotic cells could be detected in SIV-infected animals, compared to approximately 30% in HIV-2-infected and 5–12% in uninfected monkeys. However, separation of PBMC into T cell subpopulations revealed striking differences in apoptosis between SIV- and HIV-2-infected macaques. In SIV-infected monkeys both CD4 and CD8 cells underwent apoptosis to a large extent. In contrast, in the HIV-2-infected macaques apoptosis was restricted to the CD8 cell compartment. The lack of apoptosis in CD4 cells of healthy HIV-2-infected macaques implies an important role for CD4 cell apoptosis in AIDS pathogenesis.


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