Forty-one patients seropositive for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) were assessed for cell-mediated cytotoxicity (CMC) against autologous target cells bearing the major envelope glycoprotein of HIV-1, gp120. Effector lymphocytes from over 85% of seropositive patients showed CMC specific for gp120-coated targets, whereas seronegative individuals had no detectable CMC. As a group, symptomless individuals had the highest levels of CMC; patients with AIDS-related complex and AIDS showed progressively diminished reactivity. The gp120-specific CMC was mediated by a population of non-T-cell effectors phenotypically resembling NK/K cells. Cytolysis was not restricted by major histocompatibility complex determinants, as shown by killing of heterologous gp120-adsorbed targets and of HIV-1-infected cell-lines. Gp120-specific CMC was highly augmented in the presence of interleukin 2, so it may be possible to develop therapeutic strategies aimed at destruction of virus-producing cell reservoirs in infected individuals through stimulation of HIV-specific host CMC.
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