Background: Increased and premature T cell apoptosis is recognized as a feature of HIV infection, and its normalization during highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is thought to contribute to quantitative CD4 T cell restoration.
Design: Cross-sectional study of spontaneous, CD3- and CD95-mediated apoptosis in lymphocytes from 53 HIV-infected individuals taking HAART.
Methods: Overnight stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) with coated anti-CD3 or anti-CD95 monoclonal antibodies or incubation overnight in medium. Apoptosis in CD4 and CD8 T cells was measured by flow cytometry. For in vitro assay of antiretroviral drugs, normal PBMC were prestimulated with anti-CD3 monoclonal antibodies and apoptosis was induced by ligation of CD95. The expression of active caspase-8 and caspase-3 was examined by flow cytometry.
Results: We report for the first time that important levels of T cell apoptosis may persist under HAART, in spite of a rise in CD4 T cells from baseline and a sustained suppression of plasmatic viral load. Spontaneous CD3- or CD95-induced apoptosis levels were inversely correlated with the in vivo number of CD4 T cells and the CD4/CD8 ratio, but not with the viral load or duration of antiretroviral therapy. Regimens including lamivudine are associated with persistent T cell apoptosis, particularly following CD95 ligation. Lamivudine was also found to stimulate in vitro CD95-induced apoptosis and caspase activation in pre-activated T lymphocytes from healthy donors.
Conclusion: The immunomodulatory effect of lamivudine may be one of the contributing factor to increased levels of T cell apoptosis under HAART. The data suggest that there is a requirement for physiological apoptosis during HAART.