Mucosal-Associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are an abundant antibacterial innate-like lymphocyte population. There are conflicting reports as to their fate in HIV infection. The objective of this study was to determine whether MAIT cells are truly depleted in HIV infection. In this case-control study of HIV-positive patients and healthy controls, quantitative real-Time polymerase chain reaction was used to assess the abundance of messenger RNA (mRNA) and genomic DNA (gDNA) encoding the canonical MAIT cell T cell receptor (Va7.2-Ja33). Comparison was made with flow cytometry. Significant depletion of both Va7.2-Ja33 mRNA and gDNA was seen in HIV infection. Depletion of Va7.2+CD161++ T cells was confirmed by flow cytometry. In HIV infection, the abundance of Va7.2-Ja33 mRNA correlated most strongly with the frequency of Va7.2+CD161++ cells. No increase was observed in the frequency of Va7.2+CD161-cells among CD3+CD4-lymphocytes. MAIT cells are depleted from blood in HIV infection as confirmed by independent assays. Significant accumulation of a CD161-MAIT cell population is unlikely. Molecular approaches represent a suitable alternative to flow cytometry-based assays for tracking of MAIT cells in HIV and other settings.
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