Low-dose growth hormone for 40 weeks induces HIV-1-specific T cell responses in patients on effective combination anti-retroviral therapy


Correspondence: N. Imami, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, 369 Fulham Road, London SW10 9NH, UK.

E-mail: n.imami@imperial.ac.uk


Recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH) administered to combination anti-retroviral therapy (cART)-treated human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1)-infected individuals has been found to reverse thymic involution, increase total and naive CD4 T cell counts and reduce the expression of activation and apoptosis markers. To date, such studies have used high, pharmacological doses of rhGH. In this substudy, samples from treated HIV-1+ subjects, randomized to receive either a physiological dose (0·7 mg) of rhGH (n = 21) or placebo (n = 15) daily for 40 weeks, were assessed. Peptide-based enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) assays were used to enumerate HIV-1-specific interferon (IFN)-γ-producing T cells at baseline and week 40. Individuals who received rhGH demonstrated increased responses to HIV-1 Gag overlapping 20mer and Gag 9mer peptide pools at week 40 compared to baseline, whereas subjects who received placebo showed no functional changes. Subjects with the most robust responses in the ELISPOT assays had improved thymic function following rhGH administration, as determined using CD4+ T cell receptor rearrangement excision circle (TREC) and thymic density data from the original study. T cells from these robust responders were characterized further phenotypically, and showed decreased expression of activation and apoptosis markers at week 40 compared to baseline. Furthermore, CD4 and CD8 T cell populations were found to be shifted towards an effector and central memory phenotype, respectively. Here we report that administration of low-dose rhGH over 40 weeks with effective cART resulted in greater improvement of T lymphocyte function than observed with cART alone, and provide further evidence that such an approach could also reduce levels of immune activation.