Journal Article

Retinoic acid imprints a mucosal-like phenotype on dendritic cells with an increased ability to fuel HIV-1 infection

The tissue microenvironment shapes the characteristics and functions of dendritic cells (DCs), which are important players in HIV infection and dissemination. Notably, DCs in the gut have the daunting task of orchestrating the balance between immune response and tolerance. They produce retinoic acid (RA), which imprints a gut-homing phenotype and influences surrounding DCs. To investigate how the gut microenvironment impacts the ability of DCs to drive HIV infection, we conditioned human immature monocyte-derived DCs (moDCs) with RA (RA-DCs), before pulsing them with HIV and mixing them with autologous T cells. RA-DCs showed a semimature, mucosal-like phenotype and released higher amounts of TGF-β1 and CCL2. Using flow cytometry, Western blot, and microscopy, we determined that moDCs express the cell adhesion molecule mucosal vascular addressin cell adhesion molecule-1 (MAdCAM-1) and that RA increases its expression. MAdCAM-1 was also detected on a small population of DCs in rhesus macaque (Macaca mulata) mesenteric lymph node. RA-DCs formed more DC–T cell conjugates and promoted significantly higher HIV replication in DC–T cell mixtures compared with moDCs. This correlated with the increase in MAdCAM-1 expression. Blocking MAdCAM-1 partially inhibited the enhanced HIV replication. In summary, RA influences DC phenotype, increasing their ability to exacerbate HIV infection. We describe a previously unknown mechanism that may contribute to rapid HIV spread in the gut, a major site of HIV replication after mucosal exposure.