Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-specific T helper responses fail to predict CD4+ T cell decline following short-course treatment at primary HIV-1 infection

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Early anti-retroviral treatment (ART) in primary human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection (PHI) may have unique, restorative immunological and virological benefits which could enhance clinical outcomes. However, the sustainability of these HIV-specific immune responses and their impact on clinical outcome remains unclear. We present a 3-year longitudinal clinical and immunological follow-up of a single-arm, prospective study assessing the long-term impact of a short-course of ART (SCART) during PHI. Twenty-eight subjects with defined PHI received 3 months of SCART at HIV-1 seroconversion. HIV-specific interferon-γ+ CD4+ T cell responses, CD4 cell counts and plasma viral loads were assessed prospectively. Clinical outcome was defined as the time taken from PHI to a fall in CD4 cell counts <350 cells/μl on two or more occasions. Of 28 patients, 25 (89%) had detectable HIV-specific CD4+ helper responses at baseline. Five of 11 (45%) patients had preserved HIV-specific CD4+ responses 3 years after stopping SCART. Neither the presence nor magnitude of HIV-1-specific T helper responses either at baseline or 3 years following SCART cessation predicted clinical outcome. Rebound viraemia associated with stopping SCART did not diminish HIV-1-specific CD4+ responses. Long-term (>3 years) preservation of virus-specific CD4+ cells occurred in 45% of patients receiving SCART in PHI. There was no correlation between either the presence or magnitude of these responses and clinical outcome.

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