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Death of Bystander Cells by a Novel Pathway Involving Early Mitochondrial Damage in Human Immunodeficiency Virus–Related Lymphadenopathy

Maurizio Carbonari, Anna Maria Pesce, Marina Cibati, Alessandro Modica, Lucia Dell'Anna, Giampiero D'Offizi, Alberto Angelici, Stefania Uccini, Andrea Modesti and Massimo Fiorilli

Abstract

Destruction of immune cells in peripheral lymphoid tissues plays presumably a pivotal role in acquired immune deficiency syndrome pathogenesis. We found that cell suspensions obtained from lymph nodes of eight human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected individuals contained variable proportions (2.1% to 18.3%, median 11.2%) of dead lymphocytes permeable to supravital dyes, represented by CD4+, CD8+, and B cells. The frequency of dead cells correlated directly (R = 0.847) with the amount of HIV provirus in the cell populations, and HIV provirus was enriched in the dead cell fractions. Similar proportions of dead cells were observed in cell suspensions from lymphadenopathic lymph nodes of HIV donors, but not from small resting HIV lymph nodes. Electron microscopic and flow cytometric analyses revealed that most dead cells from HIV+ lymph nodes lacked internucleosomal DNA fragmentation but displayed combined features of apoptosis and necrosis, eg, chromatin condensation and mitochondrial swelling. Cells with similar morphology were readily identified in lymph node tissue sections, and marked mitochondrial swelling could be occasionally observed in cells with otherwise normal morphology. Our findings have two major implications. One is that the in vivo cell death in HIV-infected lymph nodes occurs predominantly through a novel pathway, related to but distinct from classical apoptosis and characterised by early and severe mitochondrial damage. The second implication is that HIV-related lymphadenopathy is accompanied in vivo by massive destruction of uninfected lymph node cells. Comparable levels of cell death were observed in other inflammatory lymphadenopathies not related to HIV; however, the uniquely endless and generalized nature of HIV lymphadenopathy might render this “inflammatory” cell destruction a powerful pathogenetic mechanism, accounting for the progressive disruption and depletion of lymphoid tissues seen in HIV infection.

  • Submitted July 18, 1996.
  • Accepted February 18, 1997.
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