Objective: Virus load determination has become indispensable for the management of HIV patients, but depends on expensive assays of a low throughput. We evaluated whether a highly improved HIV-1 p24 antigen detection procedure which involves heat-mediated immune complex dissociation and signal-amplification-boosted enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was suitable for antiretroviral treatment monitoring.
Design and methods: Virus load in plasma was determined for 127 plasma samples taken at 0, 2, 6, 12, 18, 24, 30 and 36 weeks from 23 patients with CD4+ T cells < 50 x 10(6)/l who received indinavir 800 mg three times daily in addition to prior antiretroviral treatment. Tests included polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for viral RNA, measured prospectively with the Roche Amplicor kit, and retrospective batch testing of heat-denatured samples for p24 antigen by the DuPont HIV-1 p24 Core Profile ELISA linked with a tyramide signal amplification step. Particle-associated reverse transcriptase (RT) by the product-enhanced RT (PERT) assay was determined as an independent third-opinion viral load marker.
Results: p24 antigen was detected as sensitively as viral RNA. Overall detection during a median observation time of 25 weeks (range, 0-39) amounted to 75.6% for antigen and 73.6% for RNA. The antigen detection limit was 0.2 pg/ml. Antigen was detectable in all 23 baseline samples, whereas RNA was undetectable in one. Antigen and RNA levels in 79 samples positive for both markers correlated with r = 0.714 (P < 0.0001). Average changes in levels of p24 antigen and RNA at eight timepoints correlated with r = 0.982 (P < 0.0001). In individual patients, the two parameters behaved similarly, and in certain cases virtually identically. RT activity was measurable in all samples.
Conclusions: The performance of this antigen detection procedure is comparable to RNA PCR, thus providing a simple, high throughput alternative in monitoring the efficacy of antiretroviral treatment.