Lack of Atorvastatin Effect on Monocyte Gene Expression and Inflammatory Markers in HIV-1-infected ART-suppressed Individuals at Risk of non-AIDS Comorbidities

Pathog Immun. 2021 Aug 13;6(2):1-26. doi: 10.20411/pai.v6i2.461. eCollection 2021.


Background: Many people living with HIV have persistent monocyte activation despite viral suppression by antiretroviral therapy (ART), which contributes to non-AIDS complications including neurocognitive and other disorders. Statins have immunomodulatory properties that might be beneficial by reducing monocyte activation.

Methods: We previously characterized monocyte gene expression and inflammatory markers in 11 HIV-positive individuals on long-term ART (HIV/ART) at risk for non-AIDS complications because of low nadir CD4+ counts (median 129 cells/uL) and elevated hsCRP. Here, these individuals participated in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover study of 12 weeks of atorvastatin treatment. Monocyte surface markers were assessed by flow cytometry, plasma mediators by ELISA and Luminex, and monocyte gene expression by microarray analysis.

Results: Among primary outcome measures, 12 weeks of atorvastatin treatment led to an unexpected increase in CCR2+ monocytes (P=0.04), but did not affect CD16+ or CD163+ monocytes, nor levels in plasma of CCL2/MCP-1 or sCD14. Among secondary outcomes, atorvastatin treatment was associated with decreased plasma hsCRP (P=0.035) and IL-2R (P=0.012). Treatment was also associated with increased total CD14+ monocytes (P=0.015), and increased plasma CXCL9 (P=0.003) and IL-12 (P<0.001). Comparable results were seen in a subgroup that had inflammatory marker elevations at baseline. Atorvastatin treatment did not significantly alter monocyte gene expression or normalize aberrant baseline transcriptional patterns.

Conclusions: In this study of aviremic HIV+ individuals at high risk of non-AIDS events, 12 weeks of atorvastatin did not normalize monocyte gene expression patterns nor lead to significant changes in monocyte surface markers or plasma mediators linked to non-AIDS comorbidities.

Keywords: Antiretroviral therapy; Atorvastatin; Cytokine; Gene expression; HIV/AIDS; Immune activation; Inflammation; Monocyte.