Open Access Open Badges Research article

HIV infection and aging: enhanced Interferon- and Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha production by the CD8+ CD28- T subset

Edward H Eylar1*, Carmen E Lefranc1, Yasuhiro Yamamura, Ineabely Báez1, Sol Luis Colón-Martinez1, Nayra Rodriguez and T B Breithaupt2

Author affiliations

1 Ponce School of Medicine, Biochemistry Department, P.O. Box 7004, Ponce PR 00732-7004, USA

2 Des Moines University-Osteopathic Medical Center Des Moines IA 50312, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Immunology 2001, 2:10  doi:10.1186/1471-2172-2-10

Published: 8 October 2001



T cells from HIV+ and aged individuals show parallels in terms of suppressed proliferative activity and interleukin-2 (I1-2) production and an increased number of CD8+ CD28- T cells. In order to compare cytokine production from T cells from these two states, CD4+ and CD8+ T cells from HIV+ aged, and normal young donors (controls) were monitored for cytokine production by flow cytometry, quantitative PCR and ELISA upon activation by PMA and anti-CD3. In addition, the CD8+ T cell subsets CD28+ and CD28- from the HIV+ and the aged groups were evaluated for cytokine production by flow cytometry, and compared with those from young controls.


Flow cytometric analysis indicated that CD8+ T cells from both HIV+ and aged donors showed an increase of approximately 2–3 fold over controls in percentage of cells producing inflammatory cytokines IFN-γ and TNF-α. Similar analysis also revealed that the production of interleukins-4,6 and 10, production was very low (1–2% of cells) and unchanged in these cells. Quantitative PCR also showed a substantial increase (4–5 fold) in IFN-γ and TNF-α mRNA from HIV+ and aged CD8+ T cells, as did ELISA for secreted IFN-γ and TNF-α (2.3–4 fold). Flow cytometric analysis showed that the CD8+ CD28- T cell subset accounts for approximately 80–86% of the IFN-γ and TNF-α production from the CD8+ subset in the aged and HIV+ states. The CD4+ T cell, while not significantly changed in the HIV+ or aged states in terms of IFN-γ production, showed a small but significant increase in TNF-α production in both states.


Our data appear compatible with physiologic conditions existing in HIV+ and aged individuals, i.e. elevated serum levels and elevated CD8+ T cell production of IFN-γ and TNF-α. Thus, the capacity for increased production of cytokines IFN-γ and TNF-α in the aged individual by the dominant CD8+ CD28- subset may have a profound influence on the clinical state by aggravating inflammatory pathologies such as rheumatoid arthritis, and possibly Alzheimer's disease and Crohn's disease. In AIDS, these cytokines may contribute to wasting and cachexia. We theorize that the predominant phenotypic change to the cytotoxic CD8+ CD28- T cell subsets in both the HIV+ and the aged states may reflect a natural "endpoint" in CD8+ T cell differentiation induced after a lifetime of immune activity (toward viruses, etc) in the aged, and after a massive accelerated response to HIV in the HIV-positive individual.