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To determine if triple combination therapy, particularly including HIV protease inhibitors (PI), confers an unique immunological benefit that is independent of reductions of plasma viral load (pVL).The correlation between changes from baseline in CD4 cell count and pVL was examined at all time points up to 52 weeks in three randomized clinical trials (AVANTI-2, AVANTI-3 and INCAS) that compared dual nucleoside therapy with triple combination therapy.Individual pVL and CD4 cell counts changes from baseline were entered into multivariate linear regression models for patients receiving double therapy and for those receiving triple therapy including a PI and/or a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI), and the null hypothesis was tested.After 52 weeks of therapy, the relationship between changes from baseline CD4 cell count and pVL was independent of whether patients were assigned double or triple therapy (P = 0.23 and 0.69 for intercept and slope, respectively), or whether patients were assigned triple therapy including a PI or triple therapy including an NNRTI (P = 0.92 and 0.95, respectively). Less than 5% of patients ever had `discordant' increases in both CD4 cell count and pVL compared with baseline, and this proportion was unrelated to the class of therapy used. `Discordant' decreases from baseline in both parameters were observed in up to 35% of individuals. The correlation between pVL and CD4 cell count changes from baseline improved over time on therapy, regardless of the therapeutic regimen involved.The data provide no evidence for a CD4 cell count benefit of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) unique to triple therapy or PI-containing regimens.