The interaction between follicular T helper cells (TFH) and B cells in the lymph nodes and spleen has a major impact on the development of antigen-specific B cell responses during infection or vaccination. Recent studies described a functional equivalent of these cells among circulating CD4 T cells, referred to as peripheral TFH cells. Here, we characterize the phenotype and in vitro B cell helper activity of peripheral TFH populations, as well as the effect of HIV infection on these populations. In co-culture experiments we confirmed CXCR5+ cells from HIV-uninfected donors provide help to B cells and more specifically, we identified a CCR7(high)CXCR5(high)CCR6(high)PD-1(high) CD4 T cell population that secretes IL-21 and enhances isotype-switched immunoglobulin production. This population is significantly decreased in treatment-naïve, HIV-infected individuals and can be recovered after anti-retroviral therapy. We found impaired immunoglobulin production in co-cultures from HIV-infected individuals and found no correlation between the frequency of peripheral TFH cells and memory B cells, or with neutralization activity in untreated HIV infection in our cohort. Furthermore, we found that within the peripheral TFH population, the expression level of TFH-associated genes more closely resembles a memory, non-TFH population, as opposed to a TFH population. Overall, our data identify a heterogeneous population of circulating CD4 T cells that provides in vitro help to B cells, and challenges the origin of these cells as memory TFH cells.
CD4 T follicular helper (TFH) cells interact with and stimulate the generation of antigen-specific B cells. TFH cell interaction with B cells correlates with production of SIV-specific immunoglobulins. However, the fate of TFH cells and their participation in SIV-induced antibody production is not well understood. We investigated the phenotype, function, location, and molecular signature of TFH cells in rhesus macaques. Similar to their human counterparts, TFH cells in rhesus macaques represented a heterogeneous population with respect to cytokine function. In a highly differentiated subpopulation of TFH cells, characterized by CD150lo expression, production of Th1 cytokines was compromised while IL-4 production was augmented, and cells exhibited decreased survival, cycling, and trafficking capacity. TFH cells exhibited a distinct gene profile that was markedly altered by SIV infection. TFH cells were infected by SIV; yet, in some animals, these cells actually accumulated during chronic SIV infection. Generalized immune activation and increased IL-6 production helped drive TFH differentiation during SIV infection. Accumulation of TFH cells was associated with increased frequency of activated germinal center B cells and SIV-specific antibodies. Therefore, chronic SIV does not disturb the ability of TFH cells to help B cell maturation and production of SIV-specific immunoglobulins.
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