The plasma levels of soluble ST2 as a marker of gut mucosal damage in early HIV infection

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Following tissue barrier breaches, interleukin-33 (IL-33) is released as an ‘alarmin’ to induce inflammation. Soluble suppression of tumorigenicity 2 (sST2), as an IL-33 decoy receptor, contributes to limit inflammation. We assessed the relationship between the IL-33/ST2 axis and markers of gut mucosal damage in patients with early (EHI) and chronic HIV infection (CHI) and elite controllers.


Analyses on patients with EHI and CHI were conducted to determine IL-33/sST2 changes over time.


IL-33 and sST2 levels were measured in plasma. Correlations between sST2 levels and plasma viral load, CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell counts, expression of T-cell activation/exhaustion markers, gut mucosal damage, microbial translocation and inflammation markers, as well as kynurenine/tryptophan ratio were assessed.


Plasma sST2 levels were elevated in EHI compared with untreated CHI and uninfected controls, whereas IL-33 levels were comparable in all groups. In EHI, sST2 levels were positively correlated with the CD8+ T-cell count and the percentage of T cells expressing activation and exhaustion markers, but not with viral load or CD4+ T-cell count. Plasma sST2 levels also correlated with plasma levels of gut mucosal damage, microbial translocation and kynurenine/tryptophan ratio and for some markers of inflammation. Prospective analyses showed that early antiretroviral therapy had no impact on sST2 levels, whereas longer treatment duration initiated during CHI normalized sST2.


As sST2 levels were elevated in EHI and were correlated with CD8+ T-cell count, immune activation, and microbial translocation, sST2 may serve as a marker of disease progression, gut damage and may directly contribute to HIV pathogenesis.

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