Molecular Mechanisms in the Pathogenesis of AIDS-Associated Kaposi’s Sarcoma

  • Barbara Ensoli
  • Giovanni Barillari
  • Luigi Buonaguro
  • Robert C. Gallo
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 303)


Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS) is a tumor of mesenchymal origin of unclear etiology and pathogenesis. The epidemic form of KS (AIDS-associated) occurs in up to 30% of HIV-1 infected individuals with lesions characterized by mixed cellularity, spindle cells proliferation and neoangiogenesis.

The establishment of in vitro and in vivo model systems (AIDS-KS cell cultures and nude mouse) have allowed studies toward the understanding of the pathogenesis of KS.

The data presented here support the hypothesis that KS is a cytokine mediated disease and that interactions between mesenchymal cell types and HIV-1 gene products might lead to a composite lesion such as KS. In fact, in vitro and in vivo studies indicate that the HIV-1 Tat protein acts as a growth factor for cells derived from AIDS-KS lesions, thus establishing an experimental link between HIV-1 infection and the development of KS in humans.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1) is implicated in various clinical manifestations associated with AIDS, including KS. KS represents the most frequent tumor arising in infected individuals, particularly homosexual and bisexual men.1 This form of KS (epidemic or AIDS-KS) is aggressive and often results in dissemination and invasion of lymph nodes and viscera. Histologically, KS is characterized by the proliferation of spindle-shaped cells (“KS cells”), considered to be the tumor element of the lesions, associated with endothelial cells, fibroblasts, inflammatory cells and new blood vessel formation (early stage lesions). In a later stage, the spindle cells tend to coalesce in larger tumor masses, although the slit-like spaces, which are characteristic of the lesion, usually remain evident. The histogenesis of the KS spindle cells, however, is still controversial and both types of mesenchymal cells, endothelial and smooth muscle cells, have been proposed as potential cell progenitors.

Although KS is clearly associated with HIV-1 infection, little is known about the molecular events underlying its pathogenesis.1,2 Recently, however, two experimental advances (the establishment of long-term cell cultures derived from KS lesions of AIDS patients and the development of animal models) have made the study of the pathogenesis of AIDS-KS possible.3–5

Here we discuss results obtained from these new systems suggesting that the induction of the AIDS-KS lesions involves a pathway of events mediated by specific cytokines and that the HIV-1 tat gene product may play a crucial role in the development and/or progression of KS in HIV-1 infected individuals.


Conditioned Medium Spindle Cell Normal Endothelial Cell Spindle Cell Proliferation Mesenchymal Cell Type 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara Ensoli
    • 1
  • Giovanni Barillari
    • 1
  • Luigi Buonaguro
    • 1
  • Robert C. Gallo
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Tumor Cell BiologyNational Cancer Institute National Institutes of HealthBethesdaUSA

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