Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Virology and Gene Therapy

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Dr. K. Jagannadha Sastry, PhD

Committee Member

Dr. Rakesh Kumar, PhD

Committee Member

Dr. Wei Cao, PhD

Committee Member

Dr. Michel Gilliet, MD

Committee Member

Dr. Pramod N. Nehete, PhD


The predominant route of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) transmission is infection across the vaginal mucosa. Epithelial cells, which form the primary barrier of protection against pathogens, are the first cell type at these mucosal tissues to encounter the virus but their role in HIV infection has not been clearly elucidated. Although mucosal epithelial cells express only low levels of the receptors required for successful HIV infection, productive infection does occur at these sites. The present work provides evidence to show that HIV exposure, without the need for productive infection, induces human cervical epithelial cells to produce Thymic Stromal Lymphopoietin (TSLP), an IL7-like cytokine, which potently activated human myeloid dendritic cells (mDC) to cause the homeostatic proliferation of autologous CD4+ T cells that serve as targets for HIV infection. Rhesus macaques inoculated with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) or with the simian-human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV) by the vaginal, oral or rectal route exhibited dramatic increases in: TSLP expression, DC and CD4+ T cell numbers, and viral replication, in the vaginal, oral, and rectal tissues, respectively within the first 2 weeks after virus exposure. Evidence obtained showed that HIV-mediated TSLP production by cervical cells is dependent upon the expression of the cell surface salivary agglutinin (SAG) protein gp340. Epithelial cells expressing gp340 exhibited HIV endocytosis and TSLP expression and genetic knockdown of gp340 or use of a gp340-blocking antibody inhibited TSLP expression by HIV. On the other hand, gp340-null epithelial cells failed to endocytose HIV and produce TSLP, but transfection of gp340 resulted in HIV-induced TSLP expression. Finally, HIV-induced TSLP expression was found to be mediated by TLR7/8 signaling and NF-kB activity because silencing these pathways or use of specific inhibitors abrogated TSLP expression in gp340-postive but not in gp340-null epithelial cells. Overall these studies identify TSLP as a key player in the acute phase of HIV-1 infection in permitting HIV to successfully maneuver the hostile vaginal mucosal microenvironment by creating a conducive environment for sustaining the small amount of virus that initially crosses the mucosal barrier allowing it to successfully cause infection and spread to distal compartments of the body


HIV-1, Thymic Stromal Lymphopoietin, Dendritic Cells, CD4+ T cells



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