Interleukin 6 Blockade With Tocilizumab Diminishes Indices of Inflammation That Are Linked to Mortality in Treated Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection

Clin Infect Dis. 2023 Jul 26;77(2):272-279. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciad199.


Background: People with human immunodeficiency virus (PWH) are at increased risk for comorbidities, and plasma interleukin 6 (IL-6) levels are among the most robust predictors of these outcomes. Tocilizumab (TCZ) blocks the receptor for IL-6, inhibiting functions of this cytokine.

Methods: This was a 40-week, placebo-controlled, crossover trial (NCT02049437) where PWH on stable antiretroviral therapy (ART) were randomized to receive 3 monthly doses of TCZ or matching placebo intravenously. Following a 10-week treatment period and a 12-week washout, participants were switched to the opposite treatment. The primary endpoints were safety and posttreatment levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and CD4+ T-cell cycling. Secondary endpoints included changes in inflammatory indices and lipid levels.

Results: There were 9 treatment-related toxicities of grade 2 or greater during TCZ administration (mostly neutropenia) and 2 during placebo administration. Thirty-one of 34 participants completed the study and were included in a modified intent-to-treat analysis. TCZ reduced levels of CRP (median decrease, 1819.9 ng/mL, P < .0001; effect size, 0.87) and reduced inflammatory markers in PWH, including D-dimer, soluble CD14, and tumor necrosis factor receptors. T-cell cycling tended to decrease in all maturation subsets after TCZ administration, but was only significant among naive CD4 T cells. Lipid levels, including lipid classes that have been related to cardiovascular disease risk, increased during TCZ treatment.

Conclusions: TCZ is safe and decreases inflammation in PWH; IL-6 is a key driver of the inflammatory environment that predicts morbidity and mortality in ART-treated PWH. The clinical significance of lipid elevations during TCZ treatment requires further study. Clinical Trials Registration. NCT02049437.

Keywords: HIV-1; inflammation; interleukin-6; lipid profiling; tocilizumab.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Over Studies
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / drug therapy
  • Interleukin-6* / metabolism
  • Lipids


  • Interleukin-6
  • Lipids
  • tocilizumab

Associated data