Objective: HIV-1 infection is characterized by altered intestinal barrier, gut microbiota dysbiosis, and systemic inflammation. We hypothesized that changes of the gut microbiota predict immune dysfunction and HIV-1 progression, and that antiretroviral therapy (ART) partially restores the microbiota composition.
Design: An observational study including 28 viremic patients, three elite controllers, and nine uninfected controls. Blood and stool samples were collected at baseline and for 19 individuals at follow-up (median 10 months) during ART.
Methods: Microbiota composition was determined by 16S rRNA sequencing (Illumina MiSeq). Soluble markers of microbial translocation and monocyte activation were analyzed by Limulus Amebocyte Lysate assay or ELISA.
Results: Several alpha-diversity measures, including number of observed bacterial species and Shannon index, were significantly lower in viremic patients compared to controls. The alpha diversity correlated with CD4 T-cell counts and inversely with markers of microbial translocation and monocyte activation. In multivariate linear regression, for every age and sex-adjusted increase in the number of bacterial species, the CD4 T-cell count increased with 0.88 (95% confidence interval 0.35-1.41) cells/μl (P = 0.002). After introduction of ART, microbiota alterations persisted with further reduction in alpha diversity. The microbiota composition at the genus level was profoundly altered in viremic patients, both at baseline and after ART, with Prevotella reduced during ART (P < 0.007).
Conclusions: Gut microbiota alterations are closely associated with immune dysfunction in HIV-1 patients, and these changes persist during short-term ART. Our data implicate that re-shaping the microbiota may be an adjuvant therapy in patients commencing successful ART.