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PLoS One. 2011 Feb 17;6(2):e17180. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017180.

Simian-human immunodeficiency infection--is the course set in the acute phase?

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Complex Systems in Biology Group, Centre for Vascular Research, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.


Identifying early predictors of infection outcome is important for the clinical management of HIV infection, and both viral load and CD4+ T cell level have been found to be useful predictors of subsequent disease progression. Very high viral load or extensively depleted CD4+ T cells in the acute phase often result in failure of immune control, and a fast progression to AIDS. It is usually assumed that extensive loss of CD4+ T cells in the acute phase of HIV infection prevents the establishment of robust T cell help required for virus control in the chronic phase. We tested this hypothesis using viral load and CD4+ T cell number of SHIV-infected rhesus macaques. In acute infection, the lowest level of CD4+ T cells was a good predictor of later survival; animals having less than 3.3% of baseline CD4+ T cells progressed to severe disease, while animals with more than 3.3% of baseline CD4+ T cells experienced CD4+ T cell recovery. However, it is unclear if the disease progression was caused by early depletion, or was simply a result of a higher susceptibility of an animal to infection. We derived a simple relationship between the expected number of CD4+ T cells in the acute and chronic phases for a constant level of host susceptibility or resistance. We found that in most cases, the depletion of CD4+ T cells in chronic infection was consistent with the prediction from the acute CD4+ T cell loss. However, the animals with less than 3.3% of baseline CD4 T cells in the acute phase were approximately 20% more depleted late in the infection than expected based on constant level of virus control. This suggests that severe acute CD4 depletion indeed impairs the immune response.

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