INTRODUCTION: HIV-1 RNA can be found at higher levels in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) than in plasma, termed CSF/plasma discordance. The clinical significance of CSF/plasma discordance is not known and the degree of discordance considered important varies. We aimed to determine whether a panel of CSF cytokines, chemokines and associated mediators were raised in patients with CSF/plasma discordance at different levels.
METHODS: A nested case-control study of 40 CSF samples from the PARTITION study. We used a cytometric bead array to measure CSF mediator concentrations in 19 discordant and 21 non-discordant samples matched for plasma HIV-1 RNA. Discordant samples were subdivided into 'high discordance' (>1log10) and 'low discordance' (0.5-1log10, or ultrasensitive discordance). CSF mediators significant in univariate analysis went forward to two-way unsupervised hierarchical clustering based on the patterns of relative mediator concentrations.
RESULTS: In univariate analysis 19 of 21 CSF mediators were significantly higher in discordant than non-discordant samples. There were no significant differences between samples with high versus low discordance. The samples grouped into two clusters which corresponded to CSF/plasma discordance (p<0.0001). In cluster one all mediators had relatively high abundance; this included 18 discordant samples and three non-discordant samples. In cluster two all mediators had relatively low abundance; this included 18 non-discordant samples and one non-discordant sample with ultrasensitive discordance only.
CONCLUSIONS: CSF/plasma discordance is associated with potentially damaging neuroinflammatory process. Patients with discordance at lower levels (ie. 0.5-1log10) should also be investigated as mediator profiles were similar to those with discordance >1log10. Sensitive testing may have a role to determine whether ultrasensitive discordance is present in those with low level CSF escape.