HIV infection results in CD4+ T cell deficiency, but efficient combination antiretroviral therapy (c-ART) restores T cells and decreases morbidity and mortality. However, immune restoration by c-ART remains variable, and prolonged T cell deficiency remains in a substantial proportion of patients. In a prospective open-label phase I/IIa trial, we evaluated the safety and efficacy of administration of the T cell regulator IL-7. The trial included 13 c-ART-treated HIV-infected patients whose CD4+ cell counts were between 100 and 400 cells/microl and plasma HIV RNA levels were less than 50 copies/ml. Patients received a total of 8 subcutaneous injections of 2 different doses of recombinant human IL-7 (rhIL-7; 3 or 10 microg/kg) 3 times per week over a 16-day period. rhIL-7 was well tolerated and induced a sustained increase of naive and central memory CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. In the highest dose group, 4 patients experienced transient increases in viral replication. However, functional assays showed that the expanded T cells responded to HIV antigen by producing IFN-gamma and/or IL-2. In conclusion, in lymphopenic HIV-infected patients, rhIL-7 therapy induced substantial functional and quantitative changes in T cells for 48 weeks. Therefore, patients may benefit from intermittent therapy with IL-7 in combination with c-ART.