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HIV Med. 2004 Mar;5(2):67-73.

Evidence of thymic reconstitution after highly active antiretroviral therapy in HIV-1 infection.

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Department of Immunology, Imperial College London, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, UK.



We aimed to provide evidence of thymic reconstitution after highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in HIV-1 infected patients and to correlate this with the restoration of peripheral naïve T cells.


Positron emission tomography (PET) enables definitive evidence of thymic activity, indicating functional potential. In this case study, a single patient who initiated HAART demonstrated reconstitution of the naïve T-cell pool and underwent thymic PET scans at baseline and 2 and 6 months following initiation of therapy. Two patients who failed to demonstrate such reconstitution acted as controls. These patients (mean age 27 years) had chronic HIV infection with low CD4 T-cell counts (mean 82, range 9-160 cells/microL blood). Increased function of the thymus visualized by PET was correlated with phenotypic changes in CD4 and CD8 T cells in the periphery measured by flow cytometry, and with numbers of recent thymic emigrants measured by quantification of the numbers of T-cell receptor excision circles (TRECs) in peripheral cells.


In one patient, clear correlations could be drawn between visible activity within the thymus, as measured by increased [F18]fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) uptake, and regeneration of naïve CD4 (CD45RA/CD62L) T cells, increased numbers of CD4 T cells, controlled viraemia and increased numbers of recent thymic emigrants. A second patient displayed no increase in peripheral CD4 count and no increase in thymic activity. The third patient elected to stop therapy following the 2-month time point.


The use of PET suggests that thymic activity may increase after HAART, indicating that the thymus has the potential to be functional even in HIV-1 infected persons with low CD4 T-cell counts.

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