Changes in thymic function in HIV-positive patients treated with highly active antiretroviral therapy and interleukin-2

P. De Paoli, M. T. Bortolin, S. Zanussi, A. Monzoni, C. Pratesi, M. Giacca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite its potent antiviral activity, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) only exerts a marginal effect on CD4+ T-cell regeneration in HIV-infected subjects. Combination therapies aimed at boosting T-cell activity and maturation may provide an important contribution to the restoration of immune function. Here, we report the results obtained by a two-year follow-up of a cohort of HIV-infected patients treated with a combination of HAART and interleukin-2 (IL-2). In these patients, in addition to a series of quantitative virological and immunological parameters, we investigated T-cell regeneration by an immunophenotypic assay monitoring CD4+ naïve T cells, and by analysis of thymic function, through the quantification of the excision DNA products of T-cell receptor rearrangement (TRECs) in lymphocytes. Compared with HAART alone, we found that the IL-2 combination therapy was equally effective in reducing the levels of viremia and marginally more effective in decreasing proviral DNA load. Strikingly, the IL-2 combination produced a marked increase in the number of CD4+ T cells bearing a naïve phenotype (CD45RA+, CD62L+), which was apparent for over 96 weeks after therapy. To assess whether these cells were the product of improved T-cell generation, we exploited a competitive quantitative molecular assay to quantify TRECs in peripheral blood lymphocytes. Surprisingly, we found that the levels of these molecules were unchanged in these patients. These findings indicate that improved thymic function does not account for the early rise of CD4 naïve cells in HIV-positive patients treated with IL-2, and suggest that alternative mechanisms of T-cell maturation and differentiation are responsible for this event.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-446
Number of pages7
JournalClinical and Experimental Immunology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • HIV
  • Interleukin-2
  • Lymphocyte subsets
  • Provirus
  • Thymus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology


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