We studied the effect of HIV infection on the human monocytic cell line U937. The cell line was infected with cellfree HIV, strain HTLV-IIIB. After 3 wk, a high reverse transcriptase activity was continuously detected in the supernatant of the cell line. Neither cytopathic effects nor changes in cell growth were observed. After infection, accessory cell function on T cell proliferation induced by anti-CD3 mAb of both IgG1 and IgG2a subclasses and Con A was tested. Accessory cell function provided by U937 cells started to decline 3 wk after inoculation with HIV. This correlated with detectable reverse transcriptase activity. The remaining accessory cell capacity varied between 10 and 60% of accessory cell function mediated by noninfected U937 cells. It was excluded that decreased FcR expression on U937/HIV cells contributed to the accessory cell defect in the anti-CD3-driven system. IL-2R expression on T cells, cocultivated with U937/HIV and anti-CD3, was minimal. The accessory cell defect could only be partly overcome by addition of rIL-2 or IL-1. Addition of high titer (10(4) TCID50) HIV or U937/HIV cells did not affect T cell proliferation, which rules out that the observed inhibition is caused by HIV infection of T cells or suppressive effects of U937/HIV cells. These results suggest that infection of APC may contribute to the induction of immunologic abnormalities in early HIV infection. Thus, monocytes/macrophages may not only serve as a reservoir for the dissemination of HIV, but may be an important target cell through which the immune system is affected.

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