HIV non-progression despite persistent viraemia is rare among antiretroviral therapy (ART)-naïve adults, but relatively common among ART-naïve children. Previous studies indicate that ART-naïve paediatric slow-progressors (PSPs) adopt immune evasion strategies similar to those described in the SIV natural hosts. However, the mechanisms underlying this immunophenotype are not well understood. In a cohort of early-treated infants who underwent analytical treatment interruption (ATI) after 12 months of ART, expression of PD-1 on CD8+ T-cells immediately prior to ATI was the main predictor of slow progression during ATI (r=0.77, p=0.002). PD-1+ CD8+ T-cell frequency was also negatively correlated with CCR5 (r=-0.74, p=0.005) and HLA-DR (r=-0.63, p=0.02) expression on CD4+ T-cells and predicted stronger HIV-specific T-lymphocyte responses. In the CD8+ T-cell compartment of PSPs, we identified an enrichment of stem-like TCF-1+PD-1+ memory cells, whereas paediatric progressors and viraemic adults were populated with a terminally exhausted PD-1+CD39+ population. TCF-1+PD-1+ expression on CD8+ T-cells was associated with higher proliferative activity (r=0.41, p=0.03) and stronger Gag-specific effector functionality. These data prompt the hypothesis that the proliferative burst potential of stem-like HIV-specific cytotoxic cells could be exploited in therapeutic strategies to boost the antiviral response and facilitate remission in early-ART-treated infants with a preserved and non-exhausted T-cell compartment.
AIDS/HIV, Adaptive immunity, Immunology, T cells