Improvement of immune functions in HIV infection by sulfur supplementation: two randomized trials


Breitkreutz R, Pittack N, Nebe CT




J Mol Med


To determine the therapeutic effect of sulfur amino acid supplementation in HIV infection we randomized 40 patients with antiretroviral therapy (ART; study 1) and 29 patients without ART (study 2) to treatment for 7 months with N-acetyl-cysteine or placebo at an individually adjusted dose according to a defined scheme. The main outcome measures were the change in immunological parameters including natural killer (NK) cell and T cell functions and the viral load. Both studies showed consistently that N-acetyl-cysteine causes a marked increase in immunological functions and plasma albumin concentrations. The effect of N-acetyl-cysteine on the viral load, in contrast, was not consistent and may warrant further studies. Our findings suggest that the impairment of immunological functions in HIV+ patients results at least partly from cysteine deficiency. Because immune reconstitution is a widely accepted aim of HIV treatment, N-acetyl-cysteine treatment may be recommended for patients with and without ART. Our previous report on the massive loss of sulfur in HIV-infected subjects and the present demonstration of the immunoreconstituting effect of cysteine supplementation indicate that the HIV-induced cysteine depletion is a novel mechanism by which a virus destroys the immune defense of the host and escapes immune elimination.