Background: Early initiation of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-infected infants controls HIV-1 replication and reduces mortality.
Methods: Plasma viremia (lower limit of detection, <2 copies/mL), T-cell activation, HIV-1-specific immune responses, and the persistence of cells carrying replication-competent virus were quantified during long-term effective combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) in 4 perinatally HIV-1-infected youth who received treatment early (the ET group) and 4 who received treatment late (the LT group). Decay in peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) proviral DNA levels was also measured over time in the ET youth.
Results: Plasma viremia was not detected in any ET youth but was detected in all LT youth (median, 8 copies/mL; P = .03). PBMC proviral load was significantly lower in ET youth (median, 7 copies per million PBMCs) than in LT youth (median, 181 copies; P = .03). Replication-competent virus was recovered from all LT youth but only 1 ET youth. Decay in proviral DNA was noted in all 4 ET youth in association with limited T-cell activation and with absent to minimal HIV-1-specific immune responses.
Conclusions: Initiation of early effective cART during infancy significantly limits circulating levels of proviral and replication-competent HIV-1 and promotes continuous decay of viral reservoirs. Continued cART with reduction in HIV-1 reservoirs over time may facilitate HIV-1 eradication strategies.
Keywords: continuous HIV-1 decay; early antiretroviral therapy; prolonged viral suppression; proviral reservoirs; reduced HIV reservoirs.
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