Objective: In previous studies we have shown that removal of the spleen in HIV-infected people during the asymptomatic phase of disease results in slower time to AIDS and may also result in improved survival. In this paper, we examine whether splenectomy affects lymphocyte counts, T-cell subsets, and HIV plasma viremia in a manner that could explain the clinical benefits associated with this intervention.
Methods: 10 HIV-infected patients who underwent splenectomy and 23 HIV-infected controls with idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura who did not undergo splenectomy were studied. These groups were compared for changes in cell subpopulations and HIV plasma viremia.
Results: Splenectomy resulted in increases in absolute lymphocyte numbers with rises in both CD4 and CD8 counts, whereas CD4 and CD8 percentage levels remained unchanged. In controls, absolute and percentage CD4+ T-cell counts declined with time from date of HIV infection. Plasma viremia decreased more than threefold, the limit of biologic variation, after splenectomy in 4 of 9 subjects and in only 1 of 18 controls. The proportion of subjects exhibiting reduced viremia following splenectomy was greater than that in HIV-infected patients that did not undergo splenectomy (chi 2 test, P = .015).
Conclusions: Improved survival and time to AIDS in splenectomized HIV-infected patients is associated with temporary reduction of plasma viremia and increase in absolute CD4 and CD8 counts. These effects could not be attributed to antiretroviral therapy because subjects were either untreated or treated with antiretroviral monotherapy during the observation period. These observations may have importance in the understanding of T-cell dynamics and the potential for splenectomy as an HIV reservoir-debulking procedure.