Background. CD4(+)/CD8(+) T-cell activation levels often remain elevated in chronic human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection despite initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART). T-cell activation predicts early death and blunted CD4+ T-cell recovery during ART and may affect persistent HIV reservoir size. We investigated whether very early ART initiation is associated with lower on-therapy immune activation and HIV persistence. Methods. From a cohort of patients with early HIV infection (<6 months duration since infection) we identified persons who started ART early (<6 months after infection) or later (≥2 years after infection) and maintained ≥2 years of virologic suppression; at-risk HIV-negative persons were controls. We measured CD4(+)/CD8(+) T-cell activation (percent CD38(+)/HLA-DR(+)) and HIV reservoir size (based on HIV DNA and cell-associated RNA levels). Results. In unadjusted analyses, early ART predicted lower on-therapy CD8(+) T-cell activation (n = 34; mean, 22.1%) than achieved with later ART (n = 32; mean, 28.8%; P = .009), although levels in early ART remained elevated relative to HIV-negative controls (P = .02). Early ART also predicted lower CD4+ T-cell activation than with later ART (5.3% vs 7.5%; P = .06). Early ART predicted 4.8-fold lower DNA levels than achieved with later ART (P = .005), and lower cell-associated RNA levels (difference in signal-to-cutoff ratio (S/Co), 3.2; P = .035). Conclusions. ART initiation <6 months after infection is associated with lower levels of T-cell activation and smaller HIV DNA and RNA reservoir size during long-term therapy.
Keywords: HIV antiretroviral therapy; HIV cure; HIV eradication; HIVreservoir; T-cell activation; early ART; inflammation.