Follicular CD8+CXCR5+ T cells are a specialized CD8+ T cell subset with unique follicular-homing capabilities that have been reported to display effector functions in viral immunity, tumor immunity, and autoimmunity. CD8+CXCR5+ T cells exhibit B cell helper functions and express CD40L, ICOS, programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1), and BCL-6, the transcriptional regulator of CD4+CXCR5+ T follicular helper cells and of germinal center B cells. HIV is known to be sequestered in lymphoid follicles, and CD8+CXCR5+ T cell frequency is a marker for disease severity, given that HIV-infected patients with lower numbers of circulating CD8+CXCR5+ T cells display lower CD4+ T cell counts. Likewise, several groups have reported a direct correlation between the quantity of CD8+CXCR5+ T cells and suppression of HIV viral load. In this study, we observed elevated absolute numbers of CD8+CXCR5+ and CD8+CXCR5+BCL-6+PD-1+ T cells in the blood of HIV-infected participants of the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study. We further demonstrated in vitro that activated human CD8+CXCR5+ T cells isolated from peripheral blood and tonsil from healthy donors show increased CD40L expression and induce the production of PD ligand 1 (PD-L1)+IgG+ B cells. Moreover, absolute numbers of CD8+CXCR5+ T cells significantly and positively correlated with numbers of PD-L1+ B cells found in blood of HIV-infected individuals. Altogether, these results show that activated CD8+CXCR5+ T cells have the ability to activate B cells and increase the percentage of PD-L1+ and PD-L1+IgG+ B cells, which provides insights into the early events of B cell activation and differentiation and may play a role in disease progression and lymphomagenesis in HIV-infected individuals.

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