To investigate the virological and immunological impact of a structured treatment interruption (STI) in a cohort of HIV-1 chronically infected patients with a further long-lasting effective virus suppression.Methods
Twelve HIV-1 chronically infected adults who had maintained viral suppression (< 20 copies/ml) for more than 2 years, as well as a CD4 : CD8 ratio > 1 for a median time of 22 months, were included in the study. Participants interrupted their antiretroviral treatment during a maximum period of 30 days or until a viral load rebound > 3000 copies/ml was detected. The same prior antiretroviral regimen was resumed after STI. Kinetics of plasma viral rebound was evaluated every 2 days during the treatment interruption period. Flow cytometry and cell proliferation assays were performed before and after STI. Genotypic resistance was assessed at the time of treatment resumption.Results
No adverse events occurred during the interruption period. In two patients no viral rebound was detected after 30 days of treatment interruption. In the remaining 10 patients, viral load became detectable (> 20 copies/ml) at a median time of 14 days after treatment interruption. Afterwards, viral load increased exponentially with a mean t1/2 of 1.6 days. Treatment was successfully resumed in all patients. No resistance-conferring mutations associated with the pre-interruption antiretroviral regimen were detected. The percentage of CD4 and CD8 lymphocytes did not vary during the STI period; however, the level of expression of T-cell activation antigen CD38 on CD8 T cells increased significantly in response to viral rebound. Four patients gained T-helper cell responses to recall antigens (tuberculin and tetanus toxoid), two of who developed an HIV-specific response to p24.Conclusions
STI in chronically HIV-1-infected patients is not associated with reductions in CD4 T lymphocytes or to clinical complications in this group of patients after 2 years of effective plasma viral suppression. Viral load rebounds in most but not all patients, without evidence of selection of resistance-conferring mutations. Thereafter, viraemia can be effectively controlled by antiretroviral agent reintroduction. HIV-specific T-helper cell responses may be achieved after one cycle of treatment interruption suggesting some degree of immune-stimulation. These data do not discard consecutive cycles of STI as a therapeutic strategy to boost HIV-specific immunity in order to maintain viral replication under effective control.