The World Health Organization AIDS epidemic update estimates that more than 37 million people are living with HIV infection. Despite the unprecedented success of antiretroviral treatments, significant challenges remain in the fight against HIV. In particular, how uninfected cells capture HIV and transmit virions to target cells remains an unanswered question. Tissue mast cells and peripheral blood basophils can be exposed to virions or HIV products during infection. Several HIV proteins (i.e., envelope glycoproteins gp120 and gp41, Tat, and Nef) can interact with distinct surface receptors expressed by human basophils and mast cells and modulate their functional responses at different levels. Additionally, several groups have provided evidence that human mast cells can be infected in vitro, as well as in vivo, by certain strains of HIV. Recently, it has been demonstrated that basophils purified from healthy donors and intestinal mast cells can efficiently capture HIV on their cell surface and, cocultured with CD4+ T cells, they can transfer the virus to the cocultured cells leading to infection. Direct contact between human basophils or intestinal mast cells and CD4+ T cells can mediate viral trans-infection of T cells through the formation of viral synapses. Thus, basophils and mast cells can provide a cellular basis for capturing and then spreading viruses throughout the body. Collectively, these findings suggest that human basophils and mast cells play a complex and possibly distinct role in HIV infection, warranting further investigations.
Are Basophils and Mast Cells Masters in HIV Infection?