Background: The pathogenesis of immunodeficiency due to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1 is incompletely understood, but immune activation is believed to play a central role. Immunomodulatory agents that decrease immune activation may be useful in the treatment of HIV-1 infection.
Methodology: A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of leflunomide for 28 days was performed in participants with HIV-1 infection who were not receiving antiretroviral therapy. Participants randomized to leflunomide were subsequently treated with cholestyramine until leflunomide levels were below detection limit.
Findings: Treatment with leflunomide was well tolerated with mostly low-grade adverse events. Leflunomide administration reduced cycling of CD4 T cells (by ex vivo bromodeoxyuridine uptake and Ki67 expression) and decreased expression of activation markers (HLA-DR/CD38 co-expression) on CD8 T cells in peripheral blood. In addition, decreased expression of HIV-1 co-receptors was observed in both CD4 and CD8 T cells in the leflunomide group. There were no significant changes in naïve and memory T cell subsets, apoptosis of T cells or markers of microbial translocation.
Conclusions: Leflunomide was effective in reducing immune activation in the setting of chronic HIV-1 infection suggesting that targeting immune activation with immunomodulatory agents may be a feasible strategy.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00101374.