PURPOSE: Patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome exhibit marked disturbances in lipid metabolism. Because altered lipid metabolism may affect immune processes, this study characterized the lipid profile of asymptomatic individuals infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1), in relationship to immune function. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Serum levels of triglycerides and cholesterol were determined in 94 asymptomatic HIV-1-infected (Centers for Disease Control stage II, III) homosexual men and 42 healthy seronegative control subjects. Immune assessment included measurements of lymphocyte subpopulations (CD4), immune activation (β2-microglobulin), natural killer cell function, and lymphocyte proliferation in response to mitogens phytohemagglutinin and pokeweed. Dietary intake was determined using a semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire. RESULTS: Despite greater consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol, significantly lower levels of total, high-density, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol were observed in HIV-1-seropositive men, relative to seronegative controls (p <0.05), with 40% of the HIV-1-infected group demonstrating hypocholesterolemia (less than 150 mg/dL). Low values of total, high-density, and low-density cholesterol were associated with elevated levels of β2-microglobulin in HIV-1-seropositive men. No difference between the groups was noted for serum triglycerides. HIV-1-infected subjects did not demonstrate the significant inverse relationship between cholesterol and mitogen response observed in seronegative controls. CONCLUSIONS: These findings indicate that low levels of cholesterol are prevalent during the early stages of HIV-1 infection and associated with specific alterations in immune function, suggesting that hypocholesterolemia may be a useful marker of disease progression.
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