Objective: To investigate the pathogenesis of low CD4 T-cell count in subjects who are immunological non responders (InR) to HAART.
Design: Thirty-five HIV-positive subjects on HAART for at least 1 year, all with undetectable HIV-1 RNA, were studied. Patients were defined as InR according to a CD4 cell increase < 20% from CD4 cell baseline or CD4 cell count < 200/microl; subjects with a CD4 T-cell increase > 20% from baseline and a CD4 cell count > 200/microl were defined as immunological responders (IR). We performed a comprehensive study to characterize the immune response of InR.
Methods: The immunological phenotype of peripheral blood mononuclear cells, thymic naive T cells, T-cell receptor Vbeta repertoire, serum concentration of interleukin (IL)-7, the expression of IL-7Ralpha on naive and memory CD4 and CD8 T cells, and regulatory T cells (Treg) were studied.
Results: In InR a significant reduction (P < 0.0001) of naive and thymic naive CD4 T cells was associated with a reduced expression of IL-7Ralpha in both cell subsets, with an increased serum concentration of IL-7 was observed. Furthermore, an increased immune activation with a reduced Treg frequency and increased number of expansions of Vbeta families was observed.
Conclusions: The reduced expression of IL-7Ralpha associated with the persistent immune activation and the alteration of Treg frequencies in part explains the low level of CD4 T cells observed in InR.