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T cell immune discriminants of HIV reservoir size in a pediatric cohort of perinatally infected individuals

Rinaldi, S;de Armas, L;Dominguez-Rodríguez, S;Pallikkuth, S;Dinh, V;Pan, L;G?rtner, K;Pahwa, R;Cotugno, N;Rojo, P;Nastouli, E;Klein, N;Foster, C;De Rossi, A;Giaquinto, C;Rossi, P;Palma, P;EPIICAL consortium, ;

The size of the latent HIV reservoir is associated with the timing of therapeutic interventions and overall health of the immune system. Here, we demonstrate that T cell phenotypic signatures associate with viral reservoir size in a cohort of HIV vertically infected children and young adults under durable viral control, and who initiated anti-retroviral therapy (ART) <2 years old. Flow cytometry was used to measure expression of immune activation (IA), immune checkpoint (ICP) markers, and intracellular cytokine production after stimulation with GAG peptides in CD4 and CD8 T cells from cross-sectional peripheral blood samples. We also evaluated the expression of 96 genes in sort-purified total CD4 and CD8 T cells along with HIV-specific CD4 and CD8 T cells using a multiplexed RT-PCR approach. As a measure of HIV reservoir, total HIV-DNA quantification by real-time PCR was performed. Poisson regression modeling for predicting reservoir size using phenotypic markers revealed a signature that featured frequencies of PD-1+CD4 T cells, TIGIT+CD4 T cells and HIV-specific (CD40L+) CD4 T cells as important predictors and it also shows that time of ART initiation strongly affects their association with HIV-DNA. Further, gene expression analysis showed that the frequencies of PD-1+CD4 T cells associated with a CD4 T cell molecular profile skewed toward an exhausted Th1 profile. Our data provide a link between immune checkpoint molecules and HIV persistence in a pediatric cohort as has been demonstrated in adults. Frequencies of PD-1+ and TIGIT+CD4 T cells along with the frequency of HIV-specific CD4 T cells could be associated with the mechanism of viral persistence and may provide insight into potential targets for therapeutic intervention.