The aim of this study was to evaluate the immunological responses induced by DNA plasmids containing HIV regulatory genes administered in combination in HIV-1-infected patients with pretreatment with highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART). The study is a double-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled study, including 15 asymptomatic HIV-1-infected patients on stable HAART for at least 6 months and with plasma HIV RNA levels below 50 copies/ml. Ten patients received a combination of rev, tat, and nef intramuscularly (im) at weeks 0, 4, and 16 at increasing doses giving totals of 300 (100 x 3), 900 (300 x 3), and 1800 (600 x 3) μg DNA. Five patients received saline in the same amounts im. Antigen-specific cytotosic T lymphocyte (CTL) levels were preserved or increased and new T lymphocyte proliferative responses were induced in the group immunized with the HIV DNA genes. No increase in antibody levels was noted. Despite a 10-fold higher vaccine dose, patients on HAART did not respond better to vaccination compared to non-HAART patients included in a previous study where the genes were administered separately. Combining the regulatory genes rev, tat, and nef in increasing doses may reduce the anticipated augmentation of HIV-specific T cell proliferative and CTL responses. Viral suppression did not seem to further improve the initial vaccine responses of patients with comparable CD4 levels.
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