Introduction: Regeneration of CD4+ T lymphocytes has been shown to be thymus-dependent in bone marrow transplant recipients and after intensive chemotherapy. The rate of CD4+ T cell regeneration is correlated positively with enlargement of the thymus, as shown on radiographs, and higher rates of CD4+ T lymphocyte regeneration were observed in children as compared with adults, consistent with thymic function diminishing with age. We hypothesized that in HIV infected patients CD4+ T cell recovery during highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) may also be thymus dependent. Therefore, repopulation of naive (CD45RA+), memory (CD45RO+) and total CD4+ T lymphocytes and total CD8+ T lymphocytes in peripheral blood was assessed in 13 HIV infected children during the initial 3 months of HAART.
Results: Significantly higher recovery rates of naive, memory and total CD4+ T cells were observed in children below the age of 3 years as compared with older children. Kinetics of total CD8+ T cells showed no relation to age. Moreover, recovery rates of naive CD4+ T cells in patients below 3 years of age were 10-40 fold higher as compared with previously reported naive CD4+ T cell recovery rates in adults on HAART.
Conclusions: High recovery rates of naive, memory and total CD4+ T cells can be achieved in children below 3 years of age. Changes in CD8 counts did not correlate with age. These results indicate that regeneration of CD4+ T cells during HAART may be a thymus-dependent process.