Tat is an early regulatory protein that plays a major role in human HIV-1 replication and AIDS pathogenesis, and therefore, it represents a key target for the host immune response. In natural infection, however, Abs against Tat are produced only by a small fraction (∼20%) of asymptomatic individuals and are rarely seen in progressors, suggesting that Tat may possess properties diverting the adaptive immunity from generating humoral responses. Here we show that a Th1-type T cell response against Tat is predominant over a Th2-type B cell response in natural HIV-1 infection. This is likely due to the capability of Tat to selectively target and very efficiently enter CD1a-expressing monocyte-derived dendritic cells (MDDC), which represent a primary target for the recognition and response to virus Ag. Upon cellular uptake, Tat induces MDDC maturation and Th1-associated cytokines and β-chemokines production and polarizes the immune response in vitro to the Th1 pattern through the transcriptional activation of TNF-αgene expression. This requires the full conservation of Tat transactivation activity since neither MDDC maturation nor TNF-α production are found with either an oxidized Tat, which does not enter MDDC, or with a Tat protein mutated in the cysteine-rich region (cys22 Tat), which enters MDDC as the wild-type Tat but is transactivation silent. Consistently with these data, inoculation of monkeys with the native wild-type Tat induced a predominant Th1 response, whereas cys22 Tat generated mostly Th2 responses, therefore providing evidence that Tat induces a predominant Th1 polarized adaptive immune response in the host.
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