Untreated human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is characterized by depletion of CD4(+) T cells, ultimately leading to the impairment of host immune defenses and death. HIV-infected CD4(+) T cells die from direct virus-induced apoptosis and CD8 T-cell-mediated elimination, but a broader and more profound depletion occurs in uninfected CD4(+) T cells via multiple indirect effects of infection. We fit mathematical models to data from experiments that tested an HIV eradication strategy in which five macaques with a proportion of CD4(+) T cells resistant to simian-human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV) entry were challenged with SHIV89.6P, a highly pathogenic dual-tropic chimeric SIV-HIV viral strain that results in rapid loss of both SHIV-susceptible and SHIV-resistant CD4(+) T cells. Our results suggest that uninfected (bystander) cell death accounts for the majority of CD4(+) T-lymphocyte loss, with at least 60% and 99% of CD4(+) T cell death occurring in uninfected cells during acute and established infection, respectively. Mechanisms to limit the profound indirect killing effects associated with HIV infection may be associated with immune preservation and improved long-term survival.
HIV infection induces a massive depletion of CD4(+) T cells, leading to profound immunodeficiency, opportunistic infections, and eventually death. While HIV induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) by directly entering and replicating in CD4(+) T cells, uninfected CD4(+) T cells also undergo apoptosis due to ongoing toxic inflammation in the region of infection. In this paper, we use mathematical models in conjunction with data from simian-human immunodeficiency virus SHIV89.6P infection in macaques (a model of HIV infection in humans) to estimate the percentage of cell death that occurs in uninfected cells during the initial period of infection. We reveal that the vast majority of cell death occurs in these cells, which are not infected. The "bystander effects" that lead to enormous reductions in the number of uninfected CD4(+) T cells may be a target for future interventions that aim to limit the extent of damage caused by HIV.