IL-7 and the HIV Tat protein act synergistically to down-regulate CD127 expression on CD8 T cells

Elliott Faller, Juzer Kakal, Ritesh Kumar, Paul Macpherson
International Immunology 2009, 21 (3): 203-16
IL-7 signaling is essential for optimal CD8 T cell function, homeostasis and establishment of memory. We have previously shown decreased expression of the IL-7 receptor alpha-chain (CD127) on CD8 T cells from HIV-infected patients with active viral replication. We have also shown that soluble HIV Tat protein specifically down-regulates CD127 on the surface of CD8 T cells and impairs cell proliferation and cytolytic potential following stimulation with IL-7 in vitro. We now show that soluble HIV Tat protein and IL-7 at near physiologic concentrations act synergistically to suppress CD127 expression. While soluble HIV Tat protein and IL-7 both independently reduce CD127 expression on the surface of CD8 T cells, Tat concentrations of 10 microg ml(-1) and IL-7 concentrations of 500 pg ml(-1) are required in vitro to have an appreciable effect. However, where 0.5 microg ml(-1) of Tat has no effect on CD127 expression and 200 pg ml(-1) of IL-7 decreases CD127 by only 14%, these two together at these same concentrations induce a 35% reduction in CD127 expression after 24 h. Inhibition of Janus kinase (JAK) completely blocks IL-7's ability to down-regulate CD127 on the surface of CD8 T cells and also abolishes synergy with Tat. Interestingly, while Tat acts synergistically with IL-7 to reduce CD127 expression, it antagonizes IL-7-induced cell proliferation and Ki-67 expression and has no effect on IL-7-mediated signal transducer and activator of transcription 5 (STAT5) phosphorylation or expression of the anti-apoptotic gene Bcl-2. Thus, by affecting different IL-7 signal transduction pathways, HIV Tat protein is able to impair both CD8 T cell activation and proliferation without inducing apoptosis.

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