Background: Central nervous system (CNS) human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and immune activation lead to brain injury and neurological impairment. Although HIV enters the nervous system soon after transmission, the magnitude of infection and immunoactivation within the CNS during primary HIV infection (PHI) has not been characterized.
Methods: This cross-sectional study analyzed cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood from 96 participants with PHI and compared them with samples from neuroasymptomatic participants with chronic infection and ≥ 200 or < 200 blood CD4 T cells/μL, and with samples from HIV-seronegative participants with respect to CSF and plasma HIV RNA, CSF to serum albumin ratio, and CSF white blood cell counts (WBC), neopterin levels, and concentrations of chemokines CXCL10 and CCL2.
Results: The PHI participants (median 77 days post transmission) had CSF HIV RNA, WBC, neopterin, and CXCL10 concentrations similar to the chronic infection participants but uniquely high albumin ratios. 18 participants had ≤ 100 copies/mL CSF HIV RNA, which was associated with low CSF to plasma HIV ratios and levels of CSF inflammation lower than in other PHI participants but higher than in HIV-seronegative controls.
Conclusions: Prominent CNS infection and immune activation is evident during the first months after HIV transmission, though a proportion of PHI patients demonstrate relatively reduced CSF HIV RNA and inflammation during this early period.