El-Diwany R, Breitwieser FP, Soliman M, Skaist AM, Srikrishna G, Blankson JN, Ray SC, Wheelan SJ, Thomas DL, Balagopal A. Intracellular HIV-1 RNA and CD4+ T-cell activation in patients starting antiretrovirals. AIDS. 2017, 31: 1405-1414. PMC5572749
OBJECTIVE: To assess if the reduction in HIV-1 RNA in CD4 T cells is correlated with the persistence of immune activation following early antiretroviral therapy (ART). DESIGN: Clinical trial (NCT01285050). METHODS: Next-generation sequencing was used to study total RNA from activated CD4 T cells (CD38 and human leukocyte antigen - antigen D related (HLA-DR) expressing) collected from 19 treatment-naive HIV-1/hepatitis C virus-infected patients before and early after ART initiation (>/=12 weeks after plasma HIV-1 RNA <50 copies/ml). To validate comparisons, pre and post-ART measures were adjusted for input RNA and overall read number. RESULTS: As expected, ART use was associated with a median [interquartile range (IQR)] 4.3% (2.2-8.3) reduction in the proportion of activated CD4 T cells (P = 0.0008). Whereas in those activated CD4 T cells no consistent differences in overall gene expression were detected, interferon-stimulated gene expression declined (P < 2 x 10). Pre-ART, sorted activated CD4 T cells contained a median (IQR) of 959 (252-1614) HIV-1 reads/10 reads compared with 72 (55-152) HIV-1 reads/10 reads after at least 12 weeks of suppressive ART (P = 8 x 10). The decrease in HIV-1 reads in activated CD4 T cells was associated with the change in plasma HIV-1 RNA levels (r = 0.77, P = 2 x 10) and the change in the proportion of activated CD4 T cells (r = 0.70, P = 0.0016). CONCLUSION: Months of ART led to a marked decrease in cell-associated HIV-1 RNA and interferon-stimulated genes expression in activated CD4 T cells that were strongly associated with the reduction in the proportion of activated CD4 T cells.