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Objective: Regulatory T cells (Tregs) contribute to HIV-1 disease progression by impairing antiviral immunity; however, the precise mechanisms responsible for the development of Tregs in the setting of HIV-1 infection are incompletely understood.

Design: In this study, we provide evidence that HIV-induced expansion of monocytic myeloid-derived suppressor cells (M-MDSCs) promote the differentiation of Foxp3+ Tregs.

Methods: We measured MDSC induction and cytokine expression by flow cytometry and analyzed their functions by coculturing experiments.

Results: We observed a dramatic increase in M-MDSC frequencies in the peripheral blood of HIV-1 seropositive (HIV-1+) individuals, even in those on antiretroviral therapy with undetectable viremia, when compared with healthy participants. We also observed increases in M-MDSCs after incubating healthy peripheral mononuclear cells (PBMCs) with HIV-1 proteins (gp120 or Tat) or Toll-like receptor 4 ligand lipopolysaccharides in vitro, an effect that could be abrogated in the presence of the phosphorylated signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 inhibitor, STA-21. Functional analyses indicated that M-MDSCs from HIV-1+ individuals express higher levels of IL-10, tumor growth factor-β, IL-4 receptor α, p47phex, programmed death-ligand 1, and phosphorylated signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 – all of which are known mediators of myelopoiesis and immunosuppression. Importantly, incubation of healthy CD4+ T cells with MDSCs derived from HIV-1+ individuals significantly increased differentiation of Foxp3+ Tregs. In addition, depletion of MDSCs from PBMCs of HIV-1+ individuals led to a significant reduction of Foxp3+ Tregs and increase of IFNγ production by CD4+ T effector cells.

Conclusions: These results suggest that HIV-induced MDSCs promote Treg cell development and inhibit T cell function – a hallmark of many chronic infectious diseases.

Copyright Statement

This document is an author manuscript from PMC. The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at AIDS.