Current guidelines recommend commencing highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in HIV-infected patients when CD4 T-cell counts reach 350 cells/microL. However, late-presenting HIV-infected patients with CD4 T-cell counts<50 cells/microL are still common. The ability of long-term HAART to normalize immune dysregulation in severely immunodeficient HIV-infected patients remains unclear. Here we address indices of immune dysregulation in previously severely immunocompromised HIV-infected patients treated with long-term HAART who had achieved increased CD4 T-cell counts and complete suppression of HIV viraemia.
We examined expression of CD28, cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 (CTLA-4) and intracellular perforin by CD4 and CD8 lymphocytes from 25 highly selected HIV-infected patients [nadir CD4 T-cell counts <50 cells/microL, >4 years on HAART and >6 months of complete viral suppression (<50 HIV-1 RNA copies/mL)] and 18 HIV-seronegative age- and sex-matched controls.
HIV-infected patients had lower percentages of CD28-expressing CD4 lymphocytes and higher percentages of CTLA-4-expressing CD4 lymphocytes than controls. The percentage of CTLA-4-expressing CD4 lymphocytes correlated inversely with that of CD28-expressing CD4 lymphocytes. The proportion of CD4 lymphocytes expressing perforin was generally low. However, more HIV-infected patients than controls had >1% of CD4 lymphocytes expressing perforin [11 of 25 (44%) vs. one of 18 (5.5%)]. The percentage of CD8 lymphocytes expressing perforin did not differ between HIV-infected patients and controls. Amongst HIV-infected patients, the percentage of perforin-expressing CD8 lymphocytes correlated inversely with nadir but not current CD4 T-cell count.
Expression of CD28, CTLA-4 and perforin by CD4 lymphocytes remain dysregulated in HIV-infected patients with previous severe immunodeficiency, despite increased CD4 T-cell counts and control of HIV viraemia by HAART.