The in vitro immune response to herpes simplex virus (HSV), type 1, strain 539, HSV type 2, strain 316D, and cytomegalovirus was studied in 20 patients (14 with acquired immune deficiency syndrome, four with the acquired immune deficiency syndrome-related symptom complex, and two sexually active asymptomatic homosexuals) and 18 heterosexual healthy controls. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were cultured with 2 × 105 plaque-forming units of heat-inactivated viruses, their lymphocyte blastogenic responses were measured after 5 days in culture by [3H]-thymidine incorporation, their interferon production was measured after 24 hr and 5 days, and natural killer (NK) cell activation was measured after 24 hr and 5 days of culture. Blastogenic responses to viruses were significantly low for only HSV, type 1:1.75 × 103 cpm in patients' cells compared to 6.36 for controls. Interferon responses to all three viruses were significantly low at both 24 hr and 5 days; e.g., HSV, type 1: 139 IU/ml in patients' cells compared to 777 for controls at 24 hr. NK cell responses of patients were lower than those of controls when tested fresh and after 24 hr of incubation: 6.1 versus 11.7% and 9.2 versus 16.8% target cell lysis, respectively. Exposure to viruses boosted NK cell responses of both patients' and controls' cells, but boosting was generally greater among the normal rather than the patients' cells. The abnormalities of response were present in all three patient groups. Addition of interleukin-2 in vitro increased the patient and control blastogenic and NK responses but did not augment the interferon responses. The in vitro responses to both HSV, type 1, and HSV, type 2, correlated significantly with our conventional assays of the percentage and absolute level of T4+-helper lymphocytes in the blood and the blastogenic responses to mitogens, such as phytohemagglutinin, pokeweed mitogen, and concanavalin A. This system should be useful for the study of host defense in acquired immune deficiency syndrome patients and those in high-risk groups, and also for the in vitro evaluation of immunomodulators.


Supported in part by Grant CA-34674 from the National Cancer Institute and conducted in part by the Clayton Foundation for Research.

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