OBJECTIVETo investigate the source of the expanded blood CD8+ subsets during an acute primary simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) infection of macaques and the potential role of these cells in disease progression.DESIGN AND METHODSThe primary CD8+ lymphocytosis, which occurs at 1-2 weeks following infection with SIVsmm/PBj-14, was examined in rhesus and cynomolgus macaques. Extensive subset analysis of the expanded blood CD8+ cell pool in a rhesus macaque was compared phenotypically with those in thymus, lymph nodes, spleen, ileum and lung washouts obtained at necropsy during blood lymphocytosis. The influence of the primary CD8+ cells expansion on disease progression was assessed at days 175-679 post-infection in long-term PBj-14 survivors staged according to immunological, virological and histopathological changes in their lymphoid organs.RESULTThe very rapid and transient blood lymphocytosis following infection consisted of two distinct CD45RA(low), CD8+ and CD28-, lymphocyte function-associated antigen (LFA)-1(high), CD45RA(high), CD8+ populations. These populations were present in low levels in thymus, lymph and spleen but were highly represented in mucosal tissues, such as long washout, in which CD28- LFA-1(high) CD45RA(high) CD8+ cells comprised 86% of CD8+ cells, and gut, which was predominantly CD45RA(low) CD28- CD8+ cells. A comparison of progressor and non-progressor PBj-14-infected rhesus and cynomolgus macaques also indicated that the existence or magnitude of a blood CD8+ lymphocytosis during the acute phase of infection did not by itself appear to influence or be predictive of disease progression.CONCLUSIONThe marked blood CD8+ lymphocytosis observed during acute SIV infection did not result from expansion of virus-specific precursors in peripheral lymph node and did not appear to influence the rate of disease progression. The findings provide a novel explanation for the primary CD8+ cell lymphocytosis and invoke a mechanism whereby virus-induced cytokine/chemokine production in mucosal sites initiate the transient migration of a pre-existing CD8+ population into the blood from compartments such as lung and gut. Such results suggest that the magnitude of lymphocytosis may depend on the level of viral replication in mucosal tissues and the presence of other infections, for example, cytomegalovirus.