The massive depletion of gastrointestinal-tract CD4 T cells is a hallmark of the acute phase of HIV infection. In contrast, the depletion of the lower-respiratory-tract mucosal CD4 T cells as measured in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid is more moderate and similar to the depletion of CD4 T cells observed in peripheral blood (PB). To understand better the dynamics of disease pathogenesis and the potential for the reconstitution of CD4 T cells in the lung and PB following the administration of effective antiretroviral therapy, we studied cell-associated viral loads, CD4 T-cell frequencies, and phenotypic and functional profiles of antigen-specific CD4 T cells from BAL fluid and blood before and after the initiation of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). The major findings to emerge were the following: (i) BAL CD4 T cells are not massively depleted or preferentially infected by HIV compared to levels for PB; (ii) BAL CD4 T cells reconstitute after the initiation of HAART, and their infection frequencies decrease; (iii) BAL CD4 T-cell reconstitution appears to occur via the local proliferation of resident BAL CD4 T cells rather than redistribution; and (iv) BAL CD4 T cells are more polyfunctional than CD4 T cells in blood, and their functional profile is relatively unchanged after the initiation of HAART. Taken together, these data suggest mechanisms for mucosal CD4 T-cell depletion and interventions that might aid in the reconstitution of mucosal CD4 T cells.
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