A Mature NK Profile at the Time of HIV Primary Infection Is Associated with an Early Response to cART.
Natural killer (NK) cells are major effectors of the innate immune response. Despite an overall defect in their function associated with chronic human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, their role in primary HIV infection is poorly understood. We investigated the modifications of the NK cell compartment in patients from the ANRS-147-Optiprim trial, a study designed to examine the benefits of intensive combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) in patients with acute or early primary HIV infection. Multiparametric flow cytometry combined with bioinformatics analyses identified the NK phenotypes in blood samples from 30 primary HIV-infected patients collected at inclusion and after 3 months of cART. NK phenotypes were revealed by co-expression of CD56/CD16/NKG2A/NKG2C and CD57, five markers known to delineate stages of NK maturation. Three groups of patients were formed according to their distributions of the 12 NK cell phenotypes identified. Their virological and immunological characteristics were compared along with the early outcome of cART. At inclusion, HIV-infected individuals could be grouped into those with predominantly immature/early differentiated NK cells and those with predominantly mature NK cells. Several virological and immunological markers were improved in patients with mature NK profiles, including lower HIV viral loads, lower immune activation markers on NK and dendritic cell (DC), lower levels of plasma IL-6 and IP-10, and a trend to normal DC counts. Whereas all patients showed a decrease of viremia higher than 3 log copies/ml after 3 months of treatment, patients with a mature NK profile at inclusion reached this threshold more rapidly than patients with an immature NK profile (70 vs. 38%). In conclusion, a better early response to cART is observed in patients whose NK profile is skewed to maturation at inclusion. Whether the mature NK cells contributed directly or indirectly to HIV control through a better immune environment under cART is unknown. The NK maturation status of primary infected patients should be considered as a relevant marker of an immune process contributing to the early outcome of cART that could help in the management of HIV-infected patients.Read the article