Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 12719571
J. Virol. 2003 May;77(10):5784-93
The emergence of X4 human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) variants in infected individuals is associated with poor prognosis. One of the possible causes of this emergence might be the selection of X4 variants in some specific tissue compartment. We demonstrate that the thymic microenvironment favors the replication of X4 variants by positively modulating the expression and signaling of CXCR4 in mature CD4(+) CD8(-) CD3(+) thymocytes. Here, we show that the interaction of thymic epithelial cells (TEC) with these thymocytes in culture induces an upregulation of CXCR4 expression. The cytokine secreted by TEC, interleukin-7 (IL-7), increases cell surface expression of CXCR4 and efficiently overcomes the downregulation induced by SDF-1 alpha, also produced by TEC. IL-7 also potentiates CXCR4 signaling, leading to actin polymerization, a process necessary for virus entry. In contrast, in intermediate CD4(+) CD8(-) CD3(-) thymocytes, the other subpopulation known to allow virus replication, TEC or IL-7 has little or no effect on CXCR4 expression and signaling. CCR5 is expressed at similarly low levels in the two thymocyte subpopulations, and neither its expression nor its signaling was modified by the cytokines tested. This positive regulation of CXCR4 by IL-7 in mature CD4(+) thymocytes correlates with their high capacity to favor X4 virus replication compared with intermediate thymocytes or peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Indeed, we observed an enrichment of X4 viruses after replication in thymocytes initially infected with a mixture of X4 (NL4-3) and R5 (NLAD8) HIV strains and after the emergence of X4 variants from an R5 primary isolate during culture in mature thymocytes.