Interleukin-15 Triggers Activation and Growth of the CD8 T-Cell Pool in Extravascular Tissues of Patients With Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

Carlo Agostini, Livio Trentin, Rosaria Sancetta, Monica Facco, Cristina Tassinari, Andrea Cerutti, Michela Bortolin, Antonella Milani, Marta Siviero, Renato Zambello and Gianpietro Semenzato


The impairment of interleukin-2 (IL-2) production occurs very early after human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection as a consequence of the quantitative depletion of Th1 cells. Despite the shift in cytokine production, most individuals develop an oligoclonal expansion of major histocompatibility complex restricted, HIV-specific CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) in different organs, suggesting that other cytokines replace IL-2 in initiating the tissue infiltration of CD8+ T cells. In this study we show that IL-15, a product of monocyte-macrophages and non-T cells and which has overlapping biological activities with IL-2, is involved in local cell networks accounting for the activation and expansion of CD8+ T-cell pools in a highly affected organ, ie, the lung. IL-15 induced proliferation of T cells obtained from the lower respiratory tract of HIV-infected patients with T-cell alveolitis and severe depletion of CD4+ T cells. Lung lymphocytes were CD45R0+/CD8+ T cells spontaneously expressing activation markers (CD69 and HLA-DR) and equipped with the receptorial subunits which bind IL-15, notably the β and γ chains of the IL-2 receptor (IL-2R) and the recently identified IL-15 binding-protein termed IL-15Rα. Similar phenotypic findings were obtained after incubation of normal T cells with IL-15, which induced CD8+ T cells to express activation markers and to proliferate. The block of the IL-2Rβ/IL-2Rγ complex with specific monoclonal antibodies abolished the T-cell stimulatory activity of IL-15 while the combination of IL-15 and tumor necrosis factor-α upregulated the proliferative response of lung T lymphocytes. The hypothesis that the tissue growth of lung CD8+ lymphocytes may involve cytokines produced from cells other than T lymphocytes was confirmed by the evidence that pulmonary macrophages expressed high levels of IL-15 and that anti–IL-15 antibodies inhibited the accessory function of alveolar macrophages on mitogen-induced CD8+ T-cell proliferation. Together, these results suggest that macrophage-derived cytokines produced at sites of T-cell infiltration play a role in the activation of HIV-specific CD8+ T-cell–mediated immune response.

  • Submitted October 24, 1996.
  • Accepted March 24, 1997.
View Full Text