Changes in Plasma HIV RNA Levels and CD4+ Lymphocyte Counts Predict Both Response to Antiretroviral Therapy and Therapeutic Failure


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Abstract

BackgroundMarkers are needed for assessing response to antiretroviral therapy over time. The CD4+ lymphocyte count is one such surrogate, but it is relatively weak.ObjectiveTo assess the association of changes in plasma human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) RNA level and CD4+ lymphocyte count with progression to the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).DesignAnalysis of data from a subset of patients in a multicenter, randomized, clinical trial.SettingSix Veterans Affairs medical centers and one U.S. Army medical center.Patients270 symptomatic HIV-infected patients from the Veterans Affairs Cooperative Study on AIDS.InterventionPatients were randomly assigned to receive zidovudine or placebo initially; a cross-over protocol was established for patients receiving placebo who had disease progression.MeasurementsReverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction on cryopreserved plasma samples, previously obtained CD4+ lymphocyte counts, and clinical events.ResultsFor each decrease of 0.5 log10 copies/mL in plasma HIV RNA level, averaged over the 6 months after randomization, the relative risk (RR) for progression to AIDS was 0.67 (P < 0.001). In a subset of 70 treated patients with long-term follow-up, a return to baseline plasma HIV RNA levels within 6 months of randomization was associated with progression to AIDS (RR, 4.28; P = 0.004). Plasma HIV RNA levels or CD4+ lymphocyte counts over time were more strongly associated with progression to AIDS than were baseline levels or counts.ConclusionsAn adequate virologic response after initiation of antiretroviral therapy seems to require a decrease in plasma HIV RNA level of at least 0.5 log10 copies/mL that is sustained for at least 6 months. The independent relation between plasma HIV RNA level and CD4+ lymphocyte count over time and clinical outcome suggests that the measurement of plasma HIV RNA level, in addition to the CD4+ lymphocyte count, has a role in guiding the management of antiretroviral therapy.Ann Intern Med.1997;126:939–945.

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