Objective: To determine whether injecting drug use is associated with cellular immune activation in the absence of HIV-1 infection.
Design: Serum levels of neopterin and beta 2-microglobulin (beta 2M) were measured cross-sectionally in injecting drug users (IDU) enrolled in a prospective study.
Subjects and methods: Two hundred and nineteen HIV-1-seronegative, healthy heterosexual black male IDU aged 21-49 years were selected from the Baltimore-based AIDS Linked to Intravenous Experiences (ALIVE) study. The possibility of including subjects in the process of seroconverting to HIV-1 was minimized by restricting the study to individuals who remained seronegative 6 months after the specimens used for analysis were collected.
Results: Mean serum beta 2M levels were not statistically different among groups of IDU whose usual pattern of injection was at least once a day for up to 3 consecutive days (daily users; n = 65), less than once per day (less-than-daily users; n = 75), or not at all for at least 2 weeks (non-recent users; n = 79). In contrast, the mean neopterin level was significantly (P = 0.039) greater in daily users (6.17 nmol/l) than in the other two groups (5.07 and 5.19 nmol/l, respectively, which were not statistically different). These results were not affected, by the frequency of using borrowed non-sterile works or by other demographic and risk factor variables.
Conclusions: Frequent injecting drug use may be independently associated with a small elevation of serum neopterin levels, but not beta 2M levels. Although the occurrence of a type I error in this sample cannot be completely excluded, serum neopterin may be more sensitive than serum beta 2M in detecting activation of immunocompetent cells associated with frequent injecting drug use in this population.