Differential impact of antiretroviral therapy initiated before or during pregnancy on placenta pathology in HIV-positive women

AIDS. 2021 Apr 1;35(5):717-726. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000002824.


Objective: To examine the association between timing of antiretroviral treatment (ART) initiation in HIV-infected women and placental histopathology.

Design: A nested substudy in a larger cohort of HIV-infected women which examined the association between ART status and birth outcomes.

Methods: Placentas (n = 130) were examined for histopathology from two ART groups: stable (n = 53), who initiated ART before conception and initiating (n = 77), who started ART during pregnancy [median (interquartile range) 15 weeks gestation (11-18)]. Using binomial regression we quantified associations between ART initiation timing with placental histopathology and pregnancy outcomes.

Results: One-third of all placentas were less than 10th percentile weight-for-gestation and there was no significant difference between ART groups. Placental diameter, thickness, cord insertion position and foetal-placental weight ratio were also similar by group. However, placentas from the stable group showed increased maternal vascular malperfusion (MVM) (39.6 vs. 19.4%), and decreased weight (392 vs. 422 g, P = 0.09). MVM risk was twice as high [risk ratios 2.03 (95% confidence interval: 1.16-3.57); P = 0.01] in the stable group; the increased risk remaining significant when adjusting for maternal age [risk ratios 2.04 (95% confidence interval: 1.12-3.72); P = 0.02]. Furthermore, MVM was significantly associated with preterm delivery and low birth weight (P = 0.002 and <0.0001, respectively).

Conclusion: Preconception initiation of ART was associated with an increased MVM risk, and may contribute to placental dysfunction. The association between MVM with preterm delivery and low birth weight suggests that a placenta-mediated mechanism likely links the putative association between long-term use of ART and adverse birth outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • HIV Infections* / complications
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Placenta
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Outcome