[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Antiretroviral therapy has significantly prolonged the lifespan of children who acquire HIV infection in infancy, but the impact of HIV on thymus-mediated maintenance of T lymphocytes has not been studied. To examine the long-term effects of HIV infection in childhood on thymopoiesis, thymic volume and parameters of thymic function from clinically stable adolescents and young adults with HIV infection acquired in infancy were compared with those from uninfected controls.
Thymic volume was determined using three-dimensional reconstruction and volumetric analysis of non-contrast enhanced computed tomography images of the upper chest. The degree of fat involution was assessed using a semiquantitive scoring system. CD4 and CD8 T cell populations and T cell receptor recombination excision circles (TREC) concentrations in peripheral blood lymphocytes were measured in all subjects.
Twenty youths (aged 17.6 +/- 2.5 years) with HIV infection acquired perinatally (n = 18) or by neonatal transfusion (n = 2) were enrolled whose HIV plasma viral load had been undetectable for a median of 3.1 years, along with 18 seronegative healthy young adults (aged 20.6 +/- 1.3 years). HIV infected subjects and controls had indistinguishable CD4 T cell counts, thymus volumes (20.5 versus 15.8 cm), thymic index scores, and TREC values. Thymic volume correlated with the number and percentage of CD4 T lymphocytes in the control group and with the number of TREC in CD4 lymphocytes in the HIV infected group.
Long term survivors of pediatric HIV infection appear to have retained or recovered thymic volume and thymic activity approximating uninfected youths.