Inflammation and microbial translocation measured prior to combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) and long-term probability of clinical progression in people living with HIV

BMC Infect Dis. 2021 Jun 12;21(1):557. doi: 10.1186/s12879-021-06260-y.


Background: Despite the effectiveness of cART, people living with HIV still experience an increased risk of serious non-AIDS events, as compared to the HIV negative population. Whether pre-cART microbial translocation (MT) and systemic inflammation might predict morbidity/mortality during suppressive cART, independently of other known risk factors, is still unclear. Thus, we aimed to investigate the role of pre-cART inflammation and MT as predictors of clinical progression in HIV+ patients enrolled in the Icona Foundation Study Cohort.

Methods: We included Icona patients with ≥2 vials of plasma stored within 6 months before cART initiation and at least one CD4 count after therapy available. Circulating biomarker: LPS, sCD14, EndoCab, hs-CRP. Kaplan-Meier curves and Cox regression models were used. We defined the endpoint of clinical progression as the occurrence of a new AIDS-defining condition, severe non-AIDS condition (SNAEs) or death whichever occurred first. Follow-up accrued from the data of starting cART and was censored at the time of last available clinical visit. Biomarkers were evaluated as both binary (above/below median) and continuous variables (logescale).

Results: We studied 486 patients with 125 clinical events: 39 (31%) AIDS, 66 (53%) SNAEs and 20 (16%) deaths. Among the analyzed MT and pro-inflammatory markers, hs-CRP seemed to be the only biomarker retaining some association with the endpoint of clinical progression (i.e. AIDS/SNAEs/death) after adjustment for confounders, both when the study population was stratified according to the median of the distribution (1.51 mg/L) and when the study population was stratified according to the 33% percentiles of the distribution (low 0.0-1.1 mg/L; intermediate 1.2-5.3 mg/L; high > 5.3 mg/L). In particular, the higher the hs-CRP values, the higher the risk of clinical progression (p = 0.056 for median-based model; p = 0.002 for 33% percentile-based model).

Conclusions: Our data carries evidence for an association between the risk of disease progression after cART initiation and circulating pre-cART hs-CRP levels but not with levels of MT. These results suggest that pre-therapy HIV-driven pro-inflammatory milieu might overweight MT and its downstream immune-activation.

Keywords: Clinical progression; HIV-infection; Inflammation; Microbial translocation.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Retroviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Bacterial Translocation
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections* / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation


  • Anti-Retroviral Agents
  • C-Reactive Protein