The mechanism for the gradual loss of CD4+ T lymphocytes and the development of the slowly progressive inflammatory/degenerative lesions that accompany human immunodeficiency virus infection are poorly understood. Using the Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV(mac)) macaque model of AIDS, we found that persistently infected primary macrophages fuse with primary activated CD4+ lymphocytes and that this interaction results in production of tumour necrosis factor-α (TNFα) and interleukin 6 (IL-6). An earlier report had shown that SIV-infected macaque macrophages fuse with CEM174 cells (a human CD4+ cell line) and cause their lysis. In the present report, we have shown that TNF-α and IL-6 are also produced during the early stages of this interaction. Data from cocultivation of infected macrophages with several CD4+ T cell lines, including CEM174, suggested that the cytokines are produced by the T cells, and that cytokine production is restricted to those cells which not only express CD4, but are also capable of fusing with the infected macrophages. These data suggest that infected macrophages in vivo could fuse with and eliminate activated CD4+ lymphocytes and, during this interaction, release cytokines, which would contribute to the degenerative and inflammatory lesions characteristic of this disease.
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