Size of HIV-1 reservoir is associated with telomere shortening and immunosenescence in early-treated European children with perinatally acquired HIV-1

EPIICAL Consortium

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Introduction: Persistence of HIV-1, causing chronic immune activation, is a key determinant of premature senescence. Early antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been associated with a reduced HIV-1 reservoir in children with perinatally acquired HIV-1 (PHIV), but its impact on the senescence process is an open question. We investigated the association between HIV-1 reservoir and biological and immune ageing profile in PHIV enrolled in the multicentre cross-sectional study CARMA (Child and Adolescent Reservoir Measurements on early suppressive ART) conducted within the EPIICAL (Early treated Perinatally HIV Infected individuals: Improving Children's Actual Life) consortium. Methods: Between September 2017 and June 2018, CARMA enrolled 40 PHIV who started ART before 2 years of age and had undetectable viremia for at least 5 years before sampling date. Samples from 37 children with a median age of 13.8 years were available for this study. HIV-1 DNA copies on CD4 cells, relative telomere length (marker of cellular senescence) and levels of T-cell receptor rearrangement excision circle (TREC, marker of thymic output) on CD4 and CD8 cells were quantified by qPCR. Immunological profile was assessed by flow cytometry. Associations between molecular and phenotypic markers, HIV-1 reservoir and age at ART initiation were explored using a multivariable Poisson regression. Results: Higher HIV-1 reservoir was associated (p<0.001) with telomere shortening (incidence rate ratio [IRR] = 0.15 [0.13–0.17]), immunosenescence (CD28CD57+, IRR = 1.23 [1.21–1.26]) and immunoactivation (CD38+ HLADR+, IRR = 7.29 [6.58–8.09]) of CD4 cells. Late ART initiation (after 6 months of age) correlated with higher HIV-1 reservoir levels (552 [303–1001] vs. 89 [56–365] copies/106 CD4 cells, p = 0.003) and percentage of CD4 senescent cells (2.89 [1.95–6.31] vs. 1.02 [0.45–2.69, p = 0.047). TREC levels in CD8 cells were inversely associated with HIV-1 reservoir (IRR = 0.77 [0.76–0.79]) and were significantly lower in late treated PHIV (1128 [486–1671] vs. 2278 [1425–3314], p = 0.042). Conclusions: Later ART initiation is associated with higher HIV-1 reservoir size, which correlates with increased telomere shortening and senescence of CD4 cells. Timing of ART initiation in infancy has long-term consequences on the immune and biological ageing profile of children with perinatally acquired HIV-1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere25847
JournalJournal of the International AIDS Society
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • HIV
  • early treatment
  • immune ageing
  • paediatric HIV
  • telomere length
  • telomeres

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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