Persistently elevated serum interleukin-6 predicts mortality among adults receiving combination antiretroviral therapy in Botswana: Results from a clinical trial

Bethan McDonald, Sikhulile Moyo, Lesego Gabaitiri, Simani Gaseitsiwe, Hermann Bussmann, John R. Koethe, Rosemary Musonda, Joseph Makhema, Vladimir Novitsky, Richard Marlink, C. William Wester, Max Essex

Publication Date: 07/01/2013

Elevated serum levels of inflammatory biomarkers have been associated with increased mortality and morbidity among HIV-infected individuals receiving combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) in European and U.S. cohorts. Few similar data are available from sub-Saharan Africa, where most cART-treated adults reside and the prevalence of advanced immunosuppression and opportunistic infections (OIs) at cART initiation is higher. This was a retrospective nested case-control analysis of clinical trial data from the completed Adult Antiretroviral Treatment and Drug Resistance (“Tshepo”) study, 2002-2007, Gaborone, Botswana. We measured pretreatment serum levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), high sensitivity C-reactive protein, and D-dimer in stored plasma samples from 32 deceased participants (cases) and 64 survivors (controls), matched for age, sex, baseline CD4+ cell count, and plasma HIV-1 RNA. Multivariate conditional logistic regression analyses were used to compare inflammatory biomarker levels, adjusting for pretreatment body mass index (BMI) and the presence of OIs. A total of 37 (5.7%) of 650 patients died on study, for a crude mortality rate of 20.6/1,000 person-years. Of 37 (86%) study participants who died on study 32 were included in this analysis. Causes of death (n=32) included non-AIDS-defining events (31.3%), HIV-related OIs (28.1%), cART/toxicity-related (21.9%), other infectious etiologies (15.6%), and unknown (3.1%). Median time to death was 31 weeks [interquartile range (IQR) 14-64]. Median baseline levels of all three biomarkers were higher in cases compared to matched controls. After adjusting for BMI and the presence of OIs, only baseline and most recent (near time of event) levels of IL-6 remained as significant predictors of all-cause mortality [adjusted OR (aOR)=1.25, 95% CI (1.05-1.48); p=0.012; and aOR=1.48 (1.05-2.09); p=0.027, respectively]. Serum IL-6 levels are important predictors of all-cause mortality in this adult urban sub-Saharan African cART-treated population. Future translational studies are warranted to better elucidate pathophysiology and inform the design of novel interventions to ameliorate the risk of death among these “at-risk” individuals.