Background: This randomised, open label, phase I, immunotherapeutic study investigated the effects of interleukin (IL)-2, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH), and therapeutic immunisation (a Clade B DNA vaccine) on combination antiretroviral therapy (cART)-treated HIV-1-infected individuals, with the objective to reverse residual T-cell dysfunction.
Methods: Twelve HIV-1(+) patients on suppressive cART with baseline CD4 T-cell counts >400 cells/mm(3) blood were randomised into one of three groups: (1) vaccine, IL-2, GM-CSF and rhGH (n=3); (2) vaccine alone (n=4); or (3) IL-2, GM-CSF and rhGH (n=5). Samples were collected at weeks 0, 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, 24 and 48. Interferon (IFN)-γ, IL-2, IL-4 and perforin ELISpot assays performed at each time point quantified functional responses to Gag p17/p24, Nef, Rev, and Tat peptides; and detailed T-cell immunophenotyping was undertaken by flow cytometry. Proviral DNA was also measured.
Results: Median baseline CD4 T-cell count was 757 cells/mm(3) (interquartile range [IQR] 567-886 cells/mm(3)), median age 48 years (IQR 42-51 years), and plasma HIV-1-RNA <50 copies/ml for all subjects. Patients who received vaccine plus IL-2, GM-CSF and rhGH (group 1) showed the most marked changes. Assessing mean changes from baseline to week 48 revealed significantly elevated numbers of CD4 T cells (p=0.0083) and improved CD4/CD8 T-cell ratios (p=0.0033). This was accompanied by a significant reduction in expression of CD38 on CD4 T cells (p=0.0194), significantly increased IFN-γ and IL-2 production in response to Gag (p=0.0122) and elevated IFN-γ production in response to Tat (p=0.041) at week 48 compared to baseline. Subjects in all treatment groups showed significantly reduced PD-1 expression at week 48 compared to baseline, with some reductions in proviral DNA.
Conclusions: Multifarious immunotherapeutic approaches in the context of fully suppressive cART further reduce immune activation, and improve both CD4 T-lymphocyte counts and HIV-1-specific T-cell responses (NCT01130376).
Keywords: DNA vaccine; HIV-1; Immune-based therapy.
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