Impact of Delaying Antiretroviral Treatment During Primary Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection on Telomere Length

J Infect Dis. 2021 Nov 22;224(10):1775-1784. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiab186.


Background: Telomere length (TL) shortens during aging, HIV seroconversion, and untreated chronic HIV infection. It is unknown whether early antiretroviral therapy (ART) start is associated with less TL shortening during primary HIV infection (PHI).

Methods: We measured TL in peripheral blood mononuclear cells by quantitative polymerase chain reaction in participants of the Zurich PHI Study with samples available for ≥6 years. We obtained univariable/multivariable estimates from mixed-effects models and evaluated the association of delaying ART start or interrupting ART with baseline and longitudinal TL.

Results: In 105 participants with PHI (median age 36 years, 9% women), median ART delay was 25, 42, and 60 days, respectively, in the first (shortest), second, and third (longest) ART delay tertile. First ART delay tertile was associated with longer baseline TL (P for trend = .034), and longer TL over 6 years, but only with continuous ART (P < .001), not if ART was interrupted ≥12 months (P = .408). In multivariable analysis, participants in the second and third ART delay tertile had 17.6% (5.4%-29.7%; P = .004) and 21.5% (9.4%-33.5%; P < .001) shorter TL, after adjustment for age, with limited effect modification by clinical variables.

Conclusions: In PHI, delaying ART start for even a matter of weeks was associated with significant and sustained TL shortening.

Keywords: HIV infection; antiretroviral therapy; multivariable analysis; primary HIV infection; telomere length.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Retroviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear
  • Male
  • Telomere
  • Telomere Shortening


  • Anti-Retroviral Agents