Introduction: Uncontrolled HIV infection is known to activate the complement system, leading to an increase in chronic inflammation. Whether or not this activation of complement persists and contributes to chronic inflammation in subjects with HIV infection that is well controlled through use of antiretroviral therapy has not been studied.
Methods: We conducted an observational, cross-sectional study using sera from 305 adults with well-controlled HIV infection and 30 healthy controls. Sera was tested for markers of complement activation (C3a and C5a levels), complement function (CH50 assay), and immunoglobulin levels (IgG1-IgG4) as IgG can activate complement. We evaluated the association of well-controlled HIV infection with C3a, C5a, CH50, IgG1-IgG4, and total IgG levels using both univariate and multivariate analyses, controlling for factors such as age, sex, race, comorbidities (including hepatitis C coinfection), smoking status, and statin use.
Results: Well-controlled HIV infection was associated with a 54% increase in complement activation as measured by C3a levels compared with healthy controls (P < 0.0001). Hepatitis C coinfection was associated with a further 52% increase in complement activation, as measured by C3a levels, over HIV alone (P = 0.003).
Conclusion: These results suggest that complement activation may contribute to a proinflammatory state even in well-controlled HIV infection. Furthermore, hepatitis C virus coinfection may be even more proinflammatory, in complement activation, compared with HIV infection alone.