NIH Scientists Find More Health Benefits From Starting HIV Treatment Early

Published: September 29, 2010

HIV-infected individuals who begin antiretroviral therapy (ART) soon after acquiring the virus may have stronger immune responses to other pathogens than HIV-infected individuals who begin ART later, a new study from the National Institutes of Health has found. This finding suggests that early initiation of ART may prevent irreversible immune system damage and adds to the body of evidence showing significant health benefits from early ART.

Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of NIH, measured the quantity and qualities of B cells in blood samples taken from three groups of study volunteers: men who had been infected with HIV for fewer than 6 months; men who had been infected with HIV for 6 months or more (often for several years); and men who were not infected with HIV. The HIV-infected men began taking ART for the first time once they entered the study.

B cells make proteins called antibodies that can flag pathogens for destruction by the immune system and prevent them from infecting cells. At the outset of the study, the number of B cells in the blood of both groups of HIV-infected men was significantly lower than the number of B cells in the blood of the uninfected men. Once the two groups of HIV-infected men began ART, however, the numbers of B cells in their blood increased significantly and to similar degrees.

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