Purpose: To report the observation that anti-retroviral therapy that includes a protease inhibitor can induce the regression of cytomegalovirus retinitis without requiring specific anticytomegalovirus drug therapy.
Methods: We examined the fundi of four patients with advanced acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) who were placed on highly active antiretroviral therapy consisting of two nucleoside analogs and a protease inhibitor. The combined medications resulted in increased CD4+ T-lymphocyte counts and decreased load of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1). A prospective evaluation of the effect of these medications on an active cytomegalovirus retinitis lesion was conducted in one patient. Retinal lesions were documented with fundus photography.
Results: None of these patients received specific anticytomegalovirus medications. The average baseline CD4+ T-lymphocyte count was 33 cells per microliter (range, 4 to 88 cells per microliter) and increased an average of 118.5 cells per microliter (range, 66 to 185 cells per microliter). Average baseline plasma HIV-1 viral loads (HIV-1-RNA copies per ml) decreased 1.46 log units (range, 0.65 to 2.93 log units). In one patient, posterior progression (border advancement toward the posterior pole) of a cytomegalovirus retinitis lesion decelerated over time and stopped. Three other patients on initial examination had areas of retinal scarring consistent with healed cytomegalovirus retinitis.
Conclusions: The addition of an HIV-1 protease inhibitor in the treatment of AIDS may lead to complete regression of cytomegalovirus retinitis without specific anticytomegalovirus medications. This effect may be related to reduced HIV-1 loads, a possible direct drug effect, an increase in CD4+ T-lymphocyte counts, or other associated changes in immune status.