Objective: To determine if there is an association between plasma HIV-1 RNA levels and severity of HIV-associated distal symmetrical polyneuropathy (DSP).
Design: Substudy of AIDS Clinical Trials Group Protocol 291, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of recombinant human nerve growth factor for the treatment of painful DSP.
Methods: Two-hundred and thirty-six subjects had plasma HIV-1 RNA load assayed at baseline. Mean and maximum neuropathic pain was assessed once daily by the Gracely Pain Scale. Other measures included subjects’ global pain assessment and quantitative sensory tests (QST). These values were correlated with baseline HIV-1 RNA levels.
Results: Among 168 subjects with detectable plasma HIV-1 RNA, there was a significant correlation between plasma HIV-1 RNA and the severity of maximum and global pain, and toe cooling thresholds. Maximum and global pain assessment correlated with plasma HIV-1 RNA in individuals with detectable viral load (r, 0.162 and 0.194;P = 0.04 and 0.01, respectively).
Conclusions: There is an association between plasma HIV-1 RNA levels and the severity of pain and QST results in HIV-associated DSP. Further studies are needed to determine if aggressive use of antiretroviral drugs, including the use of dideoxynucleosides, may be of benefit to prevent or improve peripheral neuropathy.