Objectives: To evaluate changes in architecture, viral RNA, and viral protein over 6 months in lymph nodes from retroviral-naïve HIV-infected persons before and after commencing highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).
Methods: Nine antiretroviral-naïve HIV-infected persons had lymph nodes excised at baseline and at 2 and 6-8 months after beginning a four-drug combination regimen containing zidovudine, lamivudine, nevirapine, and indinavir. Two patients had AIDS. Lymph nodes were examined by immunohistochemical staining for Gag p24 HIV, CD3, CD21, CD20, HAM 56, and Ki67 antigens and by in-situ hybridization (ISH) for HIV RNA and H3-histone RNA.
Results: Eight of nine baseline lymph nodes showed follicular hyperplasia and germinal center and paracortical mononuclear cell activation. At 2 months, the lymph nodes from seven patients, including the AIDS patients, showed more follicular hyperplasia and activation than their baseline specimens but with decreased mononuclear cell activation. By 6 months, seven lymph nodes were less hyperplastic and activated than their corresponding 2 month specimens. Combined ISH/immunohistochemical staining of baseline lymph nodes revealed productively infected T (CD3) and B (CD20) cells and macrophages (HAM56+). HIV RNA-positive mononuclear cells were infrequent at 2 months, and rare at 6 months. HIV RNA was still associated with follicular dendritic cells (FDC) at 2 months, but not at 6 months. HIV p24-positive antigen in germinal centers persisted through all 6, and the one 8 month specimens. The baseline lymph nodes from one of the AIDS patients was involuted and T cell depleted, whereas the follow-up lymph nodes were hyperplastic with normal T cell levels.
Conclusion: Follicular hyperplasia and cell activation, possibly caused by persistent viral protein in germinal centers, may help explain why HIV viremia rebounds so rapidly after the interruption of HAART. Restoration of architecture may follow the treatment of patients with AIDS who initially had involuted and CD4 cell-depleted lymph nodes.