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Differentiating Immune Cell Targets in Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue for HIV Cure.

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The single greatest challenge to an HIV cure is the persistence of latently infected cells containing inducible, replication-competent proviral genomes, which constitute only a small fraction of total or infected cells in the body. Although resting CD4+ T cells in the blood are a well-known source of viral rebound, more than 90% of the body's lymphocytes reside elsewhere. Many are in gut tissue, where HIV DNA levels per million CD4+ T cells are considerably higher than in the blood. Despite the significant contribution of gut tissue to viral replication and persistence, little is known about the cell types that support persistence of HIV in the gut; importantly, T cells in the gut have phenotypic, functional, and survival properties that are distinct from T cells in other tissues. The mechanisms by which latency is established and maintained will likely depend on the location and cytokine milieu surrounding the latently infected cells in each compartment. Therefore, successful HIV cure strategies require identification and characterization of the exact cell types that support viral persistence, particularly in the gut. In this review, we describe the seeding of the latent HIV reservoir in the gut mucosa; highlight the evidence for compartmentalization and depletion of T cells; summarize the immunologic consequences of HIV infection within the gut milieu; propose how the damaged gut environment may promote the latent HIV reservoir; and explore several immune cell targets in the gut and their place on the path toward HIV cure.

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