JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes:
When To Initiate HIV Antiretroviral Therapy: Do Benefits Other Than Survival Deserve Greater Attention?
Wood, Evan PhD*†; Montaner, Julio S.G MD, FRCPC, FCCP*†
From the *British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; and †Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Reprints: Julio S. G. Montaner, MD, FRCPC, FCCP, AIDS Research Program, University of British Columbia/St. Paul's Hospital, 667-1081 Burrard Street, Vancouver, British Columbia V6Z 1Y6, Canada (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Seminal work by Mellors et al1 clearly demonstrated that CD4 cell counts and plasma HIV RNA levels are key prognostic indicators among untreated individuals infected with HIV. CD4 cell counts and plasma HIV-1 RNA levels are widely accepted as markers of vulnerability to opportunistic diseases and subsequent mortality in this setting.1-3 Coffin4 compared the contribution of these parameters to the risk of disease progression related to HIV/AIDS to a steam engine careening toward an impending wreck, with the plasma HIV RNA level representing the speed of the train and the CD4 cell count representing the length of track remaining.
Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) first emerged at the International AIDS Society-sponsored Vancouver AIDS Conference in 1996. Since then, HAART has been shown to suppress the circulating levels of plasma HIV RNA dramatically, thereby bringing the metaphoric steam engine to a halt.5 Suppression of plasma HIV RNA leads to CD4 cell count rebound6 and, in turn, dramatic reductions in HIV-related morbidity and mortality.7-9 The impressive effects of antiretroviral therapy initially led to a “hit early/hit hard”10 approach in which HIV treatment guidelines recommended initiation of antiretroviral therapy when the CD4 count decreased to less than 500 cells/μL or the plasma HIV/RNA level rose to greater than 30,000 copies/mL.11
Because eradication of HIV infection is not considered possible with presently available therapeutic agents,12 those undergoing treatment for HIV disease must take a daily regimen of at least 3 antiretroviral agents.13 Near-perfect levels of adherence to the regimen are required to suppress the plasma HIV RNA level in a sustained fashion.14,15 Furthermore, incomplete adherence has been associated with rapid emergence of antiretroviral resistance.16,17 Although simpler and more tolerable HAART regimens are being developed, the long-term side effects of HAART may be substantial.18-21 These challenges have led to a recent shift away from the hit early/hit hard approach to a strategy in which patients are encouraged to delay the initiation of HAART until the CD4 count falls to or less than 350 cells/μL but before the CD4 count reaches 200 cells/μL.22 These thresholds have been derived from prospectively monitored cohorts of HIV-infected individuals initiating HAART that clearly demonstrate a survival advantage when HAART is initiated with CD4 cell counts greater than 200 cells/μL, whereas no such advantage is seen if HAART is initiated with CD4 cell counts greater than 350 cells/μL. Most of these studies have focused on the impact of HAART, initiated at various CD4 cell counts and plasma HIV RNA levels, on survival, whereas issues other than survival have received little attention.22
In this issue, Gras and colleagues23 use data from the AIDS Therapy Evaluation Project, Netherlands (ATHENA) to demonstrate elegantly that many patients on long-term HAART regain CD4 counts greater than 800 cells/μL. More importantly, they demonstrate a strong association between pretreatment CD4 cell count and enhanced CD4 cell count recovery among patients initiating HAART with higher CD4 cell counts. Among patients with a baseline CD4 count of 200 to 350 cells/mm3, 46% reach 800 cells/mm3, whereas this jumped to 73% among those with baseline CD4 cell counts of 350 to 500 cells/mm3. The clinical implications of these findings have yet to be determined, because most HIV-related complications are not observed until the CD4 cell count declines to less than 200 cells/mm3.24 Reports from the Data Collection on Adverse Events of Anti-HIV Drugs (DAD) study have indicated that elevated risk of mortality from liver disease and certain cancers is seen at lower CD4 cell counts.25 Of interest, this study noted differences in these specific endpoints even between those in the 200 to 350 cells/mm3 and >350 cells/mm3 categories. Similarly, the recently reported results from the Strategies for Management of Antiretroviral Therapy (SMART) trial have indicated increased risk of disease progression in the CD4 cell count-guided episodic antiretroviral therapy arm in comparison to the continuous antiretroviral therapy arm despite the fact that almost all participants in the trial had CD4 counts greater than 200 cells/mm3 during follow-up.26 Interestingly, although HAART is associated with the range of side effects described previously, the SMART trial indicated that patients in the CD4 cell count-guided interrupted antiretroviral therapy arm had increased risk of certain health outcomes (combined endpoint: myocardial infarction, stroke, liver cirrhosis, and renal failure) compared with those on continuous HAART treatment.
As HAART evolves over time, newer regimens tend to be simpler and safer. This progressively opens the door for a broader re-evaluation of the ideal time to start therapy, incorporating outcomes other than survival, such as the level of immune reconstitution demonstrated by Gras et al.23 In addition, there is growing evidence that HAART-treated patients are less likely to transmit HIV infection to others.27 Recently, mathematic modeling has suggested that expansion of HAART programs could play a substantial role in decreasing HIV incidence.28 So far, the added preventive value of HAART has not been incorporated into the equation when evaluating the ideal time to start therapy. Given the potential effect that HAART can have in various domains other than survival, however, we must broaden our focus to incorporate a variety of appropriately weighted patient outcomes, and their public health consequences.
The authors thank Deborah Graham, Kelly Hsu, and Peter Vann for their research and administrative assistance.
1. Mellors JW, Munoz A, Giorgi JV, et al. Plasma viral load and CD4+ lymphocytes as prognostic markers of HIV-1 infection. Ann Intern Med
2. Mellors JW, Rinaldo CR Jr, Gupta P, et al. Prognosis in HIV-1 infection predicted by the quantity of virus in plasma. Science
3. Phillips AN, Elford J, Sabin C, et al. Immunodeficiency and the risk of death in HIV infection. JAMA
4. Coffin J. HIV and viral dynamics. Presented at: XI International Conference on AIDS; 1996; Vancouver.
5. Gross R, Bilker WB, Friedman HM, et al. Effect of adherence to newly initiated antiretroviral therapy on plasma viral load. AIDS
6. Garcia F, De Lazzari E, Plana M, et al. Long-term CD4+
T-cell response to highly active antiretroviral therapy according to baseline CD4+
T-cell count. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr
7. Phillips AN, Staszewski S, Weber R, et al. HIV viral load response to antiretroviral therapy according to the baseline CD4 cell count and viral load. JAMA
8. Hogg RS, O'Shaughnessy MV, Gataric N, et al. Decline in deaths from AIDS due to new antiretrovirals. Lancet
9. Hammer SM, Squires KE, Hughes MD, et al. A controlled trial of two nucleoside analogues plus indinavir in persons with human immunodeficiency virus infection and CD4 cell counts of 200 per cubic millimeter or less. AIDS Clinical Trials Group 320 Study Team. N Engl J Med
10. Ho DD. Time to hit HIV, early and hard. N Engl J Med
11. Carpenter CC, Fischl MA, Hammer SM, et al. Antiretroviral therapy for HIV infection in 1996. Recommendations of an international panel. International AIDS Society-USA Panel. JAMA
12. Chun TW, Fauci AS. Latent reservoirs of HIV: obstacles to the eradication of virus. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
13. Ickovics JR, Meade CS. Adherence to HAART among patients with HIV: breakthroughs and barriers. AIDS Care
14. Paterson DL, Swindells S, Mohr J, et al. Adherence to protease inhibitor therapy and outcomes in patients with HIV infection. Ann Intern Med
15. Low-Beer S, Yip B, O'Shaughnessy MV, et al. Adherence to triple therapy and viral load response. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr
16. Deeks SG. Treatment of antiretroviral-drug-resistant HIV-1 infection. Lancet
17. Vandamme AM, Sonnerborg A, Ait-Khaled M, et al. Updated European recommendations for the clinical use of HIV drug resistance testing. Antivir Ther
18. Carr A, Samaras K, Thorisdottir A, et al. Diagnosis, prediction, and natural course of HIV-1 protease-inhibitor-associated lipodystrophy, hyperlipidaemia, and diabetes mellitus: a cohort study [see comments]. Lancet
19. Grinspoon S, Carr A. Cardiovascular risk and body-fat abnormalities in HIV-infected adults. N Engl J Med
20. Cote HC, Brumme ZL, Craib KJ, et al. Changes in mitochondrial DNA as a marker of nucleoside toxicity in HIV-infected patients. N Engl J Med
21. d'Arminio Monforte A, Lepri AC, Rezza G, et al. Insights into the reasons for discontinuation of the first highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) regimen in a cohort of antiretroviral naive patients. I.CO.N.A. Study Group. Italian Cohort of Antiretroviral-Naive Patients. AIDS
22. Yeni PG, Hammer SM, Hirsch MS, et al. Treatment for adult HIV infection: 2004 recommendations of the International AIDS Society-USA Panel. JAMA
23. Gras L, Kesselring A, Griffin J, et al. CD4 cell counts ≥800 cells/mm3
after 7 years of HAART is feasible in most patients starting with ≥350 cells/mm3
. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr
24. Wood E, Hogg RS, Harrigan PR, et al. When to initiate antiretroviral therapy in HIV-1-infected adults: a review for clinicians and patients. Lancet Infect Dis
25. Weber R, Friis-Moller N, Sabin C, et al. HIV and non-HIV-related deaths and their relationship to immunodeficiency: the D:A:D study [abstract 595]. Presented at: 12th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, Boston, MA, 2005. Available at: www.retroconference.org/2005/cd/Abstracts/24898.htm
. Accessed March 8, 2007.
26. El-Sadr WM, Lundgren JD, Neaton JD, et al. CD4+ count-guided interruption of antiretroviral treatment. N Engl J Med
27. Montaner JS, Hogg R, Wood E, et al. The case for expanding access to highly active antiretroviral therapy to curb the growth of the HIV epidemic. Lancet
28. Abbas UL, Anderson RM, Mellors JW. Potential impact of antiretroviral therapy on HIV-1 transmission and AIDS mortality in resource-limited settings. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr
This article has been cited 2 time(s).
Revista Panamericana De Salud Publica-Pan American Journal of Public Health
Variability in HIV-1 partial genomic sequences in Costa Rican patients: analysis with different bioinformatics tools
Revista Panamericana De Salud Publica-Pan American Journal of Public Health, 27(1):
British Medical BulletinCurrent use of antiretroviral treatmentBritish Medical Bulletin
© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.