Virus Genes

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 5–18 | Cite as

The Changes in the T helper 1 (Th1) and T helper 2 (Th2) Cytokine Balance During HIV-1 Infection are Indicative of an Allergic Response to Viral Proteins that may be Reversed by Th2 Cytokine Inhibitors and Immune Response Modifiers – a Review and Hypothesis

  • Yechiel Becker


The HIV-1 infection in humans induces an early cellular immune response to react to the viral proteins with a cytotoxic T cell (CTL) response that fails to inhibit virus replication and the spread of the virus. It became evident that the progression of the disease causes chronic changes to the immune system of which a gradual increase in IgE antibodies is one of its features. When the HIV-1 epidemic began, the relation between the gradual increase in IgE content and AIDS was not understood, but later it became a marker for disease prognosis. The advances in the knowledge on T helper 1 (Th1) and T helper 2 (Th2) cells revealed that Th1 cells produce cytokines that stimulate the proliferation of CTLs. Th2 cells produce cytokines that are responsible for the activation of the humoral immune response in healthy people. Studies on both Th1 and Th2 cytokine synthesis revealed an aberration in HIV-1 infected people. Clerici and Shearer presented a hypothesis (1993) whereby Th1 cell activity declines and Th2 activity increases (the Th1 → Th2 switch hypothesis) in HIV-1 infected people. In fact, experiments concerning this hypothesis ultimately supported the premise that the switch involves a critical change in the cytokine balance, which leads to the contraction of AIDS. However, the research community must still discern why such a Th1 → Th2 switch takes place in infected people and how it can be reversed. The present review points to the fact that a similar Th1 → Th2 switch constitutes the response of allergic people to environmental allergens. HIV-1 patients and allergic people that are exposed to allergens respond with an increased synthesis of Th2 cytokines and IgE, together with a decrease in Th1 cytokines. The studies on allergen-induced Th2 cells revealed that the Th2 cytokine IL-4 induces B cells to synthesize IgE, and cytokine IL-5 is the inducer of eosinophilia, just as in HIV-1 infection. The difference between the HIV-1 infection and allergies is the ability of IL-4 to induce the synthesis in T cells of the HIV-1 coreceptor CXCR4 that selects from the replicating virus a syncytium-inducing (SI) virus, a variant virus that replicates rapidly. The present hypothesis implicates the viral proteins in the induction of Th2 cytokine synthesis. This suggests that in viral proteins, allergen-like domains may be responsible for the activation of Th2 cytokine synthesis. Based on the analogy of the responses of humans to allergens and HIV-1, the following hypotheses is suggested: (a) Removal of allergen-like domains from viral genes by genetic engineering may provide viral proteins for vaccine development. (b) Attempts to treat allergic patients with IL-4 receptor inhibitors suggests that the “Th2 → Th1 Reversion” constitutes a possible approach to inhibiting the Th2 cytokines and inducing a revival of the anti-viral Th1 response.

HIV-1 infection allergic response to HIV-1 Th1 to Th2 switch Th2 to Th1 reversion Inhibition of JL-4 immune response modifiers Modifications in gp120 implications for vaccines 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yechiel Becker
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Molecular Virology, Faculty of MedicineThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael

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