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BACKGROUND: High expression of CD161 on CD8+ T cells is associated with a population of cells thought to play a role in mucosal immunity. We wished to investigate this subset in an HIV and Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) endemic African setting. METHODS: A flow cytometric approach was used to assess the frequency and phenotype of CD161++CD8+ T cells. 80 individuals were recruited for cross-sectional analysis: controls (n = 18), latent MTB infection (LTBI) only (n = 16), pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) only (n = 8), HIV only (n = 13), HIV and LTBI co-infection (n = 15) and HIV and TB co-infection (n = 10). The impact of acute HIV infection was assessed in 5 individuals recruited within 3 weeks of infection. The frequency of CD161++CD8+ T cells was assessed prior to and during antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 14 HIV-positive patients. RESULTS: CD161++CD8+ T cells expressed high levels of the HIV co-receptor CCR5, the tissue-homing marker CCR6, and the Mucosal-Associated Invariant T (MAIT) cell TCR Vα7.2. Acute and chronic HIV were associated with lower frequencies of CD161++CD8+ T cells, which did not correlate with CD4 count or HIV viral load. ART was not associated with an increase in CD161++CD8+ T cell frequency. There was a trend towards lower levels of CD161++CD8+ T cells in HIV-negative individuals with active and latent TB. In those co-infected with HIV and TB, CD161++CD8+ T cells were found at low levels similar to those seen in HIV mono-infection. CONCLUSIONS: The frequencies and phenotype of CD161++CD8+ T cells in this South African cohort are comparable to those published in European and US cohorts. Low-levels of this population were associated with acute and chronic HIV infection. Lower levels of the tissue-trophic CD161++ CD8+ T cell population may contribute to weakened mucosal immune defense, making HIV-infected subjects more susceptible to pulmonary and gastrointestinal infections and detrimentally impacting on host defense against TB.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adolescent, Adult, Anti-HIV Agents, CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Case-Control Studies, Cohort Studies, Cross-Sectional Studies, Female, HIV Infections, Humans, Immunity, Mucosal, Latent Tuberculosis, Lymphocyte Count, Male, Middle Aged, NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily B, South Africa, T-Lymphocyte Subsets, Tuberculosis, Pulmonary, Young Adult