Studying SIV infection of natural host monkey species, such as sooty mangabeys, has provided insights into the immune changes associated with these nonprogressive infections. Mangabeys maintain immune health despite high viremia or the dramatic CD4 T cell depletion that can occur following multitropic SIV infection. Here we evaluate double-negative (DN)(CD3+CD4−CD8−) T cells that are resistant to SIV infection due to a lack of CD4 surface expression, for their potential to fulfill a role as helper T cells. We first determined that DN T cells are polyclonal and predominantly exhibit an effector memory phenotype (CD95+CD62L−). Microarray analysis of TCR (anti-CD3/CD28) stimulated DN T cells indicated that these cells are multifunctional and upregulate genes with marked similarity to CD4 T cells, such as immune genes associated with Th1 (IFNγ), Th2 (IL4, IL5, IL13, CD40L), Th17 (IL17, IL22) and TFH (IL21, ICOS, IL6) function, chemokines such as CXCL9 and CXCL10 and transcription factors known to be actively regulated in CD4 T cells. Multifunctional T-helper cell responses were maintained in DN T cells from uninfected and SIV infected mangabeys and persisted in mangabeys exhibiting SIV mediated CD4 loss. Interestingly, TCR stimulation of DN T cells from SIV infected mangabeys results in a decreased upregulation of IFNγ and increased IL5 and IL13 expression compared to uninfected mangabeys. Evaluation of proliferative capacity of DN T cells in vivo (BrDU labeling) indicated that these cells maintain their ability to proliferate despite SIV infection, and express the homeostatic cytokine receptors CD25 (IL2 receptor) and CD127 (IL7 receptor). This study identifies the potential for a CD4-negative T cell subset that is refractory to SIV infection to perform T-helper functions in mangabeys and suggests that immune therapeutics designed to increase DN T cell function during HIV infection may have beneficial effects for the host immune system.
SIV infection of sooty mangabeys is generally characterized by maintained CD4 T cell levels and a lack of disease progression despite active virus replication. We have previously shown however, that dramatic loss of CD4 T cells can occur during SIV infection of mangabeys. This study investigates the potential for double negative (DN) T cells (which lack CD4 and CD8, and are refractory to SIV/HIV infection) to perform helper T cell functions. In our study, sooty mangabey DN T cells exhibited a memory phenotype and a diverse repertoire in their T cell receptors. Once stimulated, the DN T cells expressed multiple cytokines, indicating that they have the potential to function as helper T cells (a function normally undertaken by CD4+ T cells). In SIV infected mangabeys, DN T cells continue to function, proliferate in vivo, and maintain expression of homeostatic cytokine receptors on their surface. It is therefore likely that DN T cells have the potential to compensate for the loss of CD4 T cells during SIV infection. These studies indicate that increasing DN T cell levels and/or function during pathogenic HIV infection may provide one tangible component of a functional cure, and inhibit progression to clinical disease and AIDS