Our intention was to compare the rate of immunological progression prior to antiretroviral therapy (ART) and the virological response to ART in patients infected with subtype B and four non-B HIV-1 subtypes (A, C, D and the circulating recombinant form, CRF02-AG) in an ethnically diverse population of HIV-1-infected patients in south London.
A random sample of 861 HIV-1-infected patients attending HIV clinics at King's and St Thomas' hospitals' were subtyped using an in-house enzyme-linked immunoassay and env sequencing. Subtypes were compared on the rate of CD4 cell decline using a multi-level random effects model. Virological response to ART was compared using the time to virological suppression (< 400 copies/ml) and rate of virological rebound (> 400 copies/ml) following initial suppression.
Complete subtype and epidemiological data were available for 679 patients, of whom 357 (52.6%) were white and 230 (33.9%) were black African. Subtype B (n = 394) accounted for the majority of infections, followed by subtypes C (n = 125), A (n = 84), D (n = 51) and CRF02-AG (n = 25). There were no significant differences in rate of CD4 cell decline, initial response to highly active antiretroviral therapy and subsequent rate of virological rebound for subtypes B, A, C and CRF02-AG. However, a statistically significant four-fold faster rate of CD4 decline (after adjustment for gender, ethnicity and baseline CD4 count) was observed for subtype D. In addition, subtype D infections showed a higher rate of virological rebound at six months (70%) compared with subtypes B (45%, p = 0.02), A (35%, p = 0.004) and C (34%, p = 0.01)
This is the first study from an industrialized country to show a faster CD4 cell decline and higher rate of subsequent virological failure with subtype D infection. Further studies are needed to identify the molecular mechanisms responsible for the greater virulence of subtype D.