IL-21 Therapy Controls Immune Activation and Maintains Antiviral CD8+ T Cell Responses in Acute Simian Immunodeficiency Virus Infection

Gema Méndez-Lagares, Ding Lu, David Merriam, Christopher A. Baker, François Villinger, Koen K.A. Van Rompay, Joseph M. McCune, Dennis Hartigan-O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) replicate during acute infection in lymphocytes of the gastrointestinal tract, before disseminating systemically. Localized replication and associated loss of gut-resident CD4+ T cells occur regardless of the portal of entry of the virus (e.g., intravenous vs. rectal). Thus, HIV and SIV are tropic for gut tissue, and their pathogenesis requires the special environment of the intestine. T helper 17 (Th17) cells are important contributors to microbial defense in the gut that are vulnerable to HIV infection and whose loss is associated with translocation of microbial products to the systemic circulation, leading to chronic immune activation and disease progression. Interleukin (IL)-21 promotes differentiation and survival of Th17 cells and stimulates CD8+ T cell function. By promoting Th17 cell survival, IL-21 could limit bacterial translocation and immune activation in the setting of acute or rebounding HIV/SIV disease. In this study, we tested the effect of recombinant IL-21-IgFc treatment, given at the time of infection, on SIVmac251 infection. We found that rIL-21-IgFc decreases immune activation and maintains effective antiviral responses by CD8+ T cells in blood, but this maintenance is not associated with lower viral loads. rIL-21-IgFc treatment also did not generally support Th17 cell populations, but Th17 cells remained strongly and independently associated with control of plasma viremia. For example, the single animal exhibiting greatest control over viremia in our study also manifested the highest levels of IL-21 in plasma, Th17 cell maintenance in blood, and Th17 cells in intestinal tissue. These findings provide rationale for further exploration of IL-21 treatment as a support for host CD8+ T cell responses in HIV cure strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S81-S92
JournalAIDS Research and Human Retroviruses
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • cure
  • immune activation
  • Interleukin-21
  • rhesus macaques
  • SIV
  • Th17

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases


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