Purpose of review: HIV-specific T cell responses are likely to have an important role in HIV cure strategies that aim for long-lasting viral control without antiretroviral therapy (ART). An important issue in enhancing virus-specific T cell responses is whether timing of ART can influence their magnitude and breadth.
Recent findings: Early ART is associated with lower T cell activation, preservation of T cell numbers, smaller DNA and RNA reservoir size, and, in a single study (VISCONTI), control of plasma viremia after treatment interruption. The prevention of T cell destruction by early ART is associated with relatively low anti-HIV CD8⁺ T cell responses but stronger CD4⁺ T helper function. The relatively lower CD8⁺T cell response, which is presumably due to rapid lowering of HIV antigen burden after early ART, appears sufficient to control residual viral replication as well as viral rebound upon treatment interruption.
Summary: Available evidence of starting ART during acute or early HIV infection has shown benefit in both virologic and immunologic parameters despite the lower HIV-specific CD8⁺ T cell responses observed. Encouraging as this is, more extensive data are necessary to evaluate its role in combination with immunotherapeutic and latency activation strategies that are being assessed in various HIV cure-related studies.