Thymic activity in late-stage HIV-1 infected individuals receiving highly active antiretroviral therapy: Potential effect of steroid therapy

J. Pido-Lopez, A. Pires, M. Nelson, E. O'Moore, M. Fisher, B. Gazzard, R. Aspinall, F. Gotch, N. Imami

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Objective. Our objective was to monitor the effect of steroid therapy on the thymic output and function of late-stage HIV-1-infected patients undergoing highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Design. The indirect measurement of T cells that have recently emigrated from the thymus as a means of quantifying thymic output, and therefore thymic function, was achieved through use of the polymerase chain reaction-based signal joint T cell receptor rearrangement excision circles (sjTREC) assay. Proliferative capacity and interleukin (IL)-2 and IL-4 production by T cells after antigenic, mitogenic and IL-2 stimulation were also analysed. Method. Measurements were made of sjTREC levels in peripheral blood mononuclear cell DNA samples from five HIV-1 infected patients (one on steroid therapy prior to and at the time of sample extraction) receiving HAART. IL-2 and IL-4 production and proliferative capacity were also measured in three patients, including the patient receiving steroids. Result. The sjTREC assay gave an extremely weak result for the patient on steroids but, under the same assay conditions, provided clear, positive readings for the four patients not on steroids. Comparison of the patients' cytokine profiles revealed that IL-2 production was generally low or absent in all three patients tested but that IL-4 production was significantly higher in the patient given steroids. Functional potential as revealed by proliferation assays showed very low or absent cellular proliferation. Conclusion. The thymic contribution to the restoration of T lymphocyte numbers, particularly during the treatment of HIV-1 infection, may become compromised if thymic inhibitory factors such as steroids are used. Furthermore, the use of steroids may also favour the development of a T helper 2 response, which could prove particularly undesirable during HIV-1 infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-61
Number of pages6
JournalHIV Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • HIV-1
  • Steroids
  • Thymus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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