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1.  Switching HIV Treatment in Adults Based on CD4 Count Versus Viral Load Monitoring: A Randomized, Non-Inferiority Trial in Thailand 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(8):e1001494.
Using a randomized controlled trial, Marc Lallemant and colleagues ask if a CD4-based monitoring and treatment switching strategy provides a similar clinical outcome compared to the standard viral load-based strategy for adults with HIV in Thailand.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Viral load (VL) is recommended for monitoring the response to highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) but is not routinely available in most low- and middle-income countries. The purpose of the study was to determine whether a CD4-based monitoring and switching strategy would provide a similar clinical outcome compared to the standard VL-based strategy in Thailand.
Methods and Findings
The Programs for HIV Prevention and Treatment (PHPT-3) non-inferiority randomized clinical trial compared a treatment switching strategy based on CD4-only (CD4) monitoring versus viral-load (VL). Consenting participants were antiretroviral-naïve HIV-infected adults (CD4 count 50–250/mm3) initiating non-nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI)-based therapy. Randomization, stratified by site (21 public hospitals), was performed centrally after enrollment. Clinicians were unaware of the VL values of patients randomized to the CD4 arm. Participants switched to second-line combination with confirmed CD4 decline >30% from peak (within 200 cells from baseline) in the CD4 arm, or confirmed VL >400 copies/ml in the VL arm. Primary endpoint was clinical failure at 3 years, defined as death, new AIDS-defining event, or CD4 <50 cells/mm3. The 3-year Kaplan-Meier cumulative risks of clinical failure were compared for non-inferiority with a margin of 7.4%. In the intent to treat analysis, data were censored at the date of death or at last visit. The secondary endpoints were difference in future-drug-option (FDO) score, a measure of resistance profiles, virologic and immunologic responses, and the safety and tolerance of HAART. 716 participants were randomized, 356 to VL monitoring and 360 to CD4 monitoring. At 3 years, 319 participants (90%) in VL and 326 (91%) in CD4 were alive and on follow-up. The cumulative risk of clinical failure was 8.0% (95% CI 5.6–11.4) in VL versus 7.4% (5.1–10.7) in CD4, and the upper-limit of the one-sided 95% CI of the difference was 3.4%, meeting the pre-determined non-inferiority criterion. Probability of switch for study criteria was 5.2% (3.2–8.4) in VL versus 7.5% (5.0–11.1) in CD4 (p = 0.097). Median time from treatment initiation to switch was 11.7 months (7.7–19.4) in VL and 24.7 months (15.9–35.0) in CD4 (p = 0.001). The median duration of viremia >400 copies/ml at switch was 7.2 months (5.8–8.0) in VL versus 15.8 months (8.5–20.4) in CD4 (p = 0.002). FDO scores were not significantly different at time of switch. No adverse events related to the monitoring strategy were reported.
Conclusions
The 3-year rates of clinical failure and loss of treatment options did not differ between strategies although the longer-term consequences of CD4 monitoring would need to be investigated. These results provide reassurance to treatment programs currently based on CD4 monitoring as VL measurement becomes more affordable and feasible in resource-limited settings.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00162682
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
About 34 million people (most of them living in low-and middle-income countries) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV infection leads to the destruction of immune system cells (including CD4 cells, a type of white blood cell), leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected individuals died within 10 years of infection. Then, in 1996, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART)—combined drugs regimens that suppress viral replication and allow restoration of the immune system—became available. For people living in affluent countries, HIV/AIDS became a chronic condition but, because HAART was expensive, HIV/AIDS remained a fatal illness for people living in resource-limited countries. In 2003, the international community declared HIV/AIDS a global health emergency and, in 2006, it set the target of achieving universal global access to HAART by 2010. By the end of 2011, 8 million of the estimated 14.8 million people in need of HAART in low- and middle-income countries were receiving treatment.
Why Was This Study Done?
At the time this trial was conceived, national and international recommendations were that HIV-positive individuals should start HAART when their CD4 count fell below 200 cells/mm3 and should have their CD4 count regularly monitored to optimize HAART. In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations were updated to promote expanded eligibility for HAART with a CD4 of 500 cells/mm3 or less for adults, adolescents, and older children although priority is given to individuals with CD4 count of 350 cells/mm3 or less. Because HIV often becomes resistant to first-line antiretroviral drugs, WHO also recommends that viral load—the amount of virus in the blood—should be monitored so that suspected treatment failures can be confirmed and patients switched to second-line drugs in a timely manner. This monitoring and switching strategy is widely used in resource-rich settings, but is still very difficult to implement for low- and middle-income countries where resources for monitoring are limited and access to costly second-line drugs is restricted. In this randomized non-inferiority trial, the researchers compare the performance of a CD4-based treatment monitoring and switching strategy with the standard viral load-based strategy among HIV-positive adults in Thailand. In a randomized trial, individuals are assigned different interventions by the play of chance and followed up to compare the effects of these interventions; a non-inferiority trial investigates whether one treatment is not worse than another.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers assigned about 700 HIV-positive adults who were beginning HAART for the first time to have their CD4 count (CD4 arm) or their CD4 count and viral load (VL arm) determined every 3 months. Participants were switched to a second-line therapy if their CD4 count declined by more than 30% from their peak CD4 count (CD4 arm) or if a viral load of more than 400 copies/ml was recorded (VL arm). The 3-year cumulative risk of clinical failure (defined as death, a new AIDS-defining event, or a CD4 count of less than 50 cells/mm3) was 8% in the VL arm and 7.4% in the CD4 arm. This difference in clinical failure risk met the researchers' predefined criterion for non-inferiority. The probability of a treatment switch was similar in the two arms, but the average time from treatment initiation to treatment switch and the average duration of a high viral load after treatment switch were both longer in the CD4 arm than in the VL arm. Finally, the future-drug-option score, a measure of viral drug resistance profiles, was similar in the two arms at the time of treatment switch.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, in Thailand, a CD4 switching strategy is non-inferior in terms of clinical outcomes among HIV-positive adults 3 years after beginning HAART when compared to the recommended viral load-based switching strategy and that there is no difference between the strategies in terms of viral suppression and immune restoration after 3-years follow-up. Importantly, however, even though patients in the CD4 arm spent longer with a high viral load than patients in the VL arm, the emergence of HIV mutants resistant to antiretroviral drugs was similar in the two arms. Although these findings provide no information about the long-term outcomes of the two monitoring strategies and may not be generalizable to routine care settings, they nevertheless provide reassurance that using CD4 counts alone to monitor HAART in HIV treatment programs in resource-limited settings is an appropriate strategy to use as viral load measurement becomes more affordable and feasible in these settings.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001494.
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS (in several languages); its 2010 recommendations for antiretroviral therapy for HIV infection in adults and adolescents are available as well as the June 2013 Consolidated guidelines on the use of antiretroviral drugs for treating and preventing HIV infection: recommendations for a public health approach
The 2012 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, on HIV and AIDS in Thailand, on universal access to AIDS treatment, and on starting, monitoring and switching HIV treatment (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information (including personal stories) about HIV and AIDS
More information about this trial (the PHPT-3 trial) is available
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert; the nonprofit website Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about living with HIV, including stories about HIV treatment
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001494
PMCID: PMC3735458  PMID: 23940461
2.  The Effect of HLA Polymorphisms on the Recognition of Gag Epitopes in HIV-1 CRF01_AE Infection 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41696.
Introduction
The design of a globally effective vaccine rests on the identification of epitopes capable of eliciting effective cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses across multiple HIV clades in different populations. This study aims to discern the effect of HLA polymorphisms and the cross-clade reactivity or clade-specificity of epitopes in Thailand where HIV-1 CRF01_AE is circulating.
Materials and Methods
14 peptides based on consensus HIV-1 CRF01_AE amino acid sequences were designed for use in IFN-γ ELISpot assays and 51Cr release assays among 66 HIV-1 CRF01_AE-infected Thai patients. For ELISpot responders carrying HLA alleles currently unknown to restrict CRF01_AE epitopes, in silico epitope-HLA prediction was performed.
Results
29/66 (43.9%) patients recognized at least one peptide. In total 79 responses were seen against all 14 peptides. 28/79 (35.4%) of the responses were in patients with HLA alleles previously reported to restrict CRF01_AE epitopes, 24/79 (30.4%) responses were in individuals with HLA alleles previously reported to restrict epitopes of HIV clades other than CRF01_AE, and the remaining 27/79 (34.2%) responses were not associated with HLA alleles previously known to restrict HIV epitopes. In silico epitope prediction detected 19 novel, epitope-HLA combinations, and 11/19 (57.9%) were associated with HLA-C alleles. We further confirmed a novel HLA restriction of a previously identified HIV-1 Gag epitope [p24122–130: PPIPVGDIY (PY9)] by HLA-B*40:01 with a standard 51Cr release assay.
Discussion
CTL recognition sites in HIV-1 Gag were similar among different clades but the HLA restriction differed in Thai patients. This disparity in HLA restriction along different populations illustrated the importance of clade- and population-specific HLA analysis prior to CTL vaccine design.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041696
PMCID: PMC3407236  PMID: 22848569
3.  Diagnostic value of an immunochromatographic test over clinical predictors for tuberculosis in HIV patients 
Clinical Epidemiology  2011;3:237-244.
Purpose:
The value of an immunochromatographic test for tuberculosis (ICT-TB) combined with clinical predictors has yet to be evaluated in Thailand. This study aimed to assess any additional diagnostic value of an ICT-TB test over that of clinical predictors in a group of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) patients as well as in subgroups of HIV patients classified by clinical risk scores.
Patients and methods:
An extended cross-sectional study was conducted at a community hospital in Chiang Rai and a general hospital in Lampang. HIV patients registered between April 2009 and May 2010 were screened by a locally made ICT-TB test, including 38, 16, and 6 kD Microbacterium tuberculosis antigens, as well as by routine evaluations for TB diagnosis. Demographic data, medical history, signs, and symptoms were recorded. Participants were followed up for 2 months for final ascertainment of TB diagnosis.
Results:
Of 206 patients, 37 (18%) had TB. Four clinical predictors were identified: low body mass index (<19 kg/m2), prolonged cough (duration >2 weeks), shaking chills (≥1 week), and no use of antiretrovirals. The area under the receiver operating curve was 90.2%; adding the ICT-TB test result increased the area nonsignificantly to 91.6% (P = 0.40). When patients were categorized by risk scores derived from selected clinical predictors into low (scores ≤7) and high (scores >7) TB risk groups, a positive ICT-TB test increased the positive predictive value nonsignificantly in the low risk group (from 12.5% to 27.3%, P = 0.17) and the high risk group (from 78.6% to 80.8%, P = 0.73).
Conclusion:
In this study setting, the ICT-TB test did not enhance TB diagnosis over the four clinical predictors in the overall group or any subgroups of HIV patients classified by clinical risk scores.
doi:10.2147/CLEP.S24668
PMCID: PMC3191113  PMID: 22003307
diagnostic test; signs; symptoms; TB
4.  Unique CRF01_AE Gag CTL Epitopes Associated with Lower HIV-Viral Load and Delayed Disease Progression in a Cohort of HIV-Infected Thais 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e22680.
Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes (CTLs) play a central role in controlling HIV-replication. Although numerous CTL epitopes have been described, most are in subtype B or C infection. Little is known about CTL responses in CRF01_AE infection. Gag CTL responses were investigated in a cohort of 137 treatment-naïve HIV-1 infected Thai patients with high CD4+ T cell counts, using gIFN Enzyme-Linked Immunospot (ELISpot) assays with 15-mer overlapping peptides (OLPs) derived from locally dominant CRF01_AE Gag sequences. 44 OLPs were recognized in 112 (81.8%) individuals. Both the breadth and magnitude of the CTL response, particularly against the p24 region, positively correlated with CD4+ T cell count and inversely correlated with HIV viral load. The breadth of OLP response was also associated with slower progression to antiretroviral therapy initiation. Statistical analysis and single peptide ELISpot assay identified at least 17 significant associations between reactive OLP and HLA in 12 OLP regions; 6 OLP-HLA associations (35.3%) were not compatible with previously reported CTL epitopes, suggesting that these contained new CTL Gag epitopes. A substantial proportion of CTL epitopes in CRF01_AE infection differ from subtype B or C. However, the pattern of protective CTL responses is similar; Gag CTL responses, particularly against p24, control viral replication and slow clinical progression.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022680
PMCID: PMC3149616  PMID: 21826201
5.  Detection of HIV-1 DNA resistance mutations by a sensitive assay at initiation of antiretroviral therapy is associated with virologic failure 
Background
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has become more available throughout the developing world during the past five years. The World Health Organization recommends nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor-based regimens as initial ART. However, their efficacy may be compromised by resistance mutations selected by single-dose nevirapine (sdNVP) used to prevent mother-to-child-transmission of HIV-1 (PMTCT). There is no simple and efficient method to detect such mutations at initiation of ART.
Methods
181 women participating in a PMTCT clinical trial who started NVP-ART after they had received sdNVP or placebo were tested for nevirapine-resistance point-mutations (K103N, Y181C, and G190A) using 100 copies of HIV-1 DNA with a sensitive oligonucleotide ligation assay (OLA) able to detect mutants at low concentrations (≥5% of the viral population). Virologic failure was defined as plasma HIV-1 RNA confirmed >50 copies/mL between 6–18 months of NVP-ART.
Results
At initiation of NVP-ART, resistance mutations were identified in 26% of 148 participants given sdNVP (K103N-13%, Y181C-5%, G190A-19%; ≥2 mutations-10%) at a median 9.3 months after sdNVP. The risk of virologic failure was .62 (95% confidence interval (CI), 0.46–0.77) in women with ≥1 resistance mutation, compared to 0.25 (95% CI, 0.17–0.35) in those without detectable resistance mutations (P<.0001). Failure was independently associated with resistance, an interval of <6 months between sdNVP and NVP-ART initiation, and a viral load above the median at NVP-ART initiation.
Conclusions
Access to simple and inexpensive assays to detect low-concentrations of NVP-resistant HIV-1 DNA prior to the initiation of ART could help improve the outcome of first-line antiretroviral therapy.
doi:10.1086/652148
PMCID: PMC2856716  PMID: 20377404
HIV-1; resistance mutations; nevirapine; HAART; oligonucleotide ligation assay; developing countries
6.  HLA-Associated Immune Pressure on Gag Protein in CRF01_AE-Infected Individuals and Its Association with Plasma Viral Load 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e11179.
Background
The human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-restricted cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) immune response is one of the major factors determining the genetic diversity of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). There are few population-based analyses of the amino acid variations associated with the host HLA type and their clinical relevance for the Asian population. Here, we identified HLA-associated polymorphisms in the HIV-1 CRF01_AE Gag protein in infected married couples, and examined the consequences of these HLA-selected mutations after transmission to HLA-unmatched recipients.
Methodology/Principal Findings
One hundred sixteen HIV-1-infected couples were recruited at a government hospital in northern Thailand. The 1.7-kb gag gene was amplified and directly sequenced. We identified 56 associations between amino acid variations in Gag and HLA alleles. Of those amino acid variations, 35 (62.5%) were located within or adjacent to regions reported to be HIV-specific CTL epitopes restricted by the relevant HLA. Interestingly, a significant number of HLA-associated amino acid variations appear to be unique to the CRF01_AE-infected Thai population. Variations in the capsid protein (p24) had the strongest associations with the viral load and CD4 cell count. The mutation and reversion rates after transmission to a host with a different HLA environment varied considerably. The p24 T242N variant escape from B57/58 CTL had a significant impact on the HIV-1 viral load of CRF01_AE-infected patients.
Conclusions/Significance
HLA-associated amino acid mutations and the CTL selection pressures on the p24 antigen appear to have the most significant impact on HIV replication in a CRF01_AE-infected Asian population. HLA-associated mutations with a low reversion rate accumulated as a footprint in this Thai population. The novel HLA-associated mutations identified in this study encourage us to acquire more extensive information about the viral dynamics of HLA-associated amino acid polymorphisms in a given population as effective CTL vaccine targets.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011179
PMCID: PMC2887364  PMID: 20567513
7.  Frequent Detection of Epstein-Barr Virus and Cytomegalovirus but Not JC Virus DNA in Cerebrospinal Fluid Samples from Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Infected Patients in Northern Thailand 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2005;43(7):3484-3486.
Applying nested-PCRs, we frequently detected DNA of Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus but not JC virus in cerebrospinal fluid samples from 140 human immunodeficiency virus-infected patients with central nervous system symptoms in northern Thailand. Despite the low incidence of primary central nervous system lymphoma or cytomegalovirus encephalitis among Thai AIDS patients, Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus infections in the central nervous system are common.
doi:10.1128/JCM.43.7.3484-3486.2005
PMCID: PMC1169133  PMID: 16000485

Results 1-7 (7)