HIV-infected individuals with 200-500 CD4 T cell/μl were enrolled in a controlled study of three interleukin 2 (IL-2) plus antiretroviral therapy (ART) regimens: (1) continuous intravenous administration of 12 million international units (MIU) of IL-2 followed by subcutaneous high-dose IL-2 (7.5 MIU, twice daily) for 5 days every 8 weeks; (2) high-dose subcutaneous IL-2 for 5 days every 8 weeks; (3) low-dose (3 MIU, twice daily) subcutaneous IL-2 for 5 days every 4 weeks; and (4) ART alone. Serum concentrations of IL-2, soluble IL-2 receptor (sIL-2R), tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α), and IL-6 were determined. A progressive decrease over time of the circulating levels of IL-2 was observed in individuals receiving the highest doses of IL-2, but not in those belonging to the low-dose arm. Conversely, increased levels of sIL-2R were observed in all cytokine-treated individuals. The levels of TNF-α increased in the high-dose IL-2 regimens, but decreased in individuals receiving low-dose IL-2. IL-2-related toxicity was significantly correlated to the peak IL-2 serum levels, and was substantially lower in those individuals receiving low-dose IL-2. In conclusion, intermittent IL-2 administration causes the elevation of peripheral CD4 T cells, but also a profound cytokine response and systemic toxicity. The latter was correlated to the peak serum level of IL-2, but not to those of TNF-α and IL-6.
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