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Clin Exp Immunol. 1998 Aug;113(2):229-34.

Anti-retroviral therapy reverses HIV-associated abnormalities in lymphocyte apoptosis.

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Department of Immunology, St Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, UK.


The objective of this study was to assess the role of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) on the susceptibility of peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) from HIV-1-infected individuals to activation-induced apoptosis and in comparison with changes in CD4 lymphocyte counts. Eleven symptomatic HIV+ patients were studied. Ex vivo apoptosis was measured in phytohaemagglutinin (PHA)-stimulated PBL and CD4 subsets by flow cytometry, at baseline and after 1 month (4-6 weeks) and 2/3 months of ART. Six patients had extended studies of the effects of therapy to a maximum of 21 months. Lymphocyte apoptosis was significantly elevated in HIV+ patients at baseline (median 22% compared with 7.5% in HIV- risk-matched controls; P < 0.05). This decreased to control levels on ART (7.4% at 4-6 weeks, P < 0.01, and 6.2% at 8-12 weeks, P < 0.05, compared with baseline). Similar changes occurred in the CD4+ subpopulation. The decrease in apoptosis was maintained for several months, but the effect was rapidly lost if ART was discontinued. CD4 counts showed a reciprocal relationship to changes in apoptosis. The association of changes in apoptosis with those in CD4 counts suggests a link between programmed cell death and lymphocyte depletion. Apoptosis reduced in some individuals without any reduction in viral load, suggesting apoptosis may be influenced by factors in addition to the overall extent of HIV replication.

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