A cytostatic drug improves control of HIV-1 replication during structured treatment interruptions: a randomized study

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Objective:To study the effect of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) with and without hydroxyurea (HU) on changes in plasma viral load (VL) set-point, and on HIV-1-specific responses, after five cycles of structured treatment interruptions (STI).Methods:A group of 20 patients taking HAART for chronic HIV infection with VL < 20 copies/ml were randomized to continue HAART or HAART plus HU for 24 weeks followed by five STI cycles. HU was also stopped in cycles 1–3 but continued in cycles 4 and 5. The number of individuals maintaining a VL set-point < 5000 copies/ml during the fifth interruption were determined.Results:VL remained < 5000 copies/ml in eight out of nine patients in the HU group and in four out of ten patients in the HAART group after a median 48 weeks of follow-up after the fifth interruption (P = 0.039). By STI cycle 5, there was a significant increase in the neutralizing activity (NA), in both magnitude and breadth of the total cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response and in lymphoproliferative response (LPR) from baseline. No significant differences were observed between HAART and HU groups in NA, CTL and LPR at any time-point. There were no differences in the NA titers at any time-point between responder and non-responder patients. There was a trend for higher CTL and LPR levels in responder patients (P = 0.10).Conclusions:In this randomized, controlled study of STI with cycles of HAART or HAART plus HU, a lower peak VL rebound and a lower VL set-point was achieved in patients continuing HU while other drugs were discontinued. HU did not blunt anti-HIV-1-specific responses; however, control of VL did not correlate with anti-HIV-1-specific cellular immune responses.

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