Background: In vitro studies suggest that reducing cholesterol inhibits HIV replication. However, this effect may not hold in vivo, where other factors, such as cholesterol's immunomodulatory properties, may interact.
Methods: Fasting blood samples were obtained on 165 people living with HIV at baseline and after 24 weeks on highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Participants were classified as hypocholesterolemic (HypoCHL; <150 mg/dl) or non-HypoCHL (>150 mg/dl) and were compared on viro-immune outcomes.
Results: At baseline, participants with HypoCHL (40%) exhibited lower CD4 (197 +/- 181 vs. 295 +/- 191 cells/mm3, p = 0.02) and CD8 (823 +/- 448 vs. 1194 +/- 598 cells/mm3, p = 0.001) counts and were more likely to have detectable viral loads (OR = 3.5, p = 0.01) than non-HypoCHL controls. After HAART, participants with HypoCHL were twice as likely to experience a virological failure >400 copies (95% CI 1-2.6, p = 0.05) and to exhibit <200 CD4 (95% CI 1.03-2.9, p = 0.04) compared with non-HypoCHL. Low thymic output was related to poorer CD4 cell response in HypoCHL subjects. Analyses suggest a dose-response relationship with every increase of 50 mg/dl in cholesterol related to a parallel rise of 50 CD4 cells.
Conclusions: The study implicates, for the first time, HypoCHL with impaired HAART effectiveness, including limited CD4 repletion by the thymus and suboptimal viral clearance.