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Only three well-characterised cases of functional cure have been described in paediatric HIV infection over the past decade. This underlines the fact that early initiation of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART), whilst minimising the size of the viral reservoir, is insufficient to achieve cure, unless other factors contribute. In this review, we consider these additional factors that may facilitate functional cure in paediatric infection. Among the early life immune activity, these include HIV-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) and natural killer (NK) cell responses. The former have less potent antiviral efficacy in paediatric compared with adult infection, and indeed, in early life, NK responses have greater impact in suppressing viral replication than CTL. This fact may contribute to a greater potential for functional cure to be achieved in paediatric versus adult infection, since post-treatment control in adults is associated less with highly potent CTL activity, and more with effective antiviral NK cell responses. Nonetheless, antiviral CTL responses can play an increasingly effective role through childhood, especially in individuals expressing then 'protective' HLA-I molecules HLA-B*27/57/58:01/8101. The role of the innate system on preventing infection, in shaping the particular viruses transmitted, and influencing outcome is discussed. The susceptibility of female fetuses to in utero mother-to-child transmission, especially in the setting of recent maternal infection, is a curiosity that also provides clues to mechanisms by which cure may be achieved, since initial findings are that viral rebound is less frequent among males who interrupt cART. The potential of broadly neutralising antibody therapy to facilitate cure in children who have received early cART is discussed. Finally, we draw attention to the impact of the changing face of the paediatric HIV epidemic on cure potential. The effect of cART is not limited to preventing AIDS and reducing the risk of transmission. cART also affects which mothers transmit. No longer are mothers who transmit those who carry genes associated with poor immune control of HIV. In the cART era, a high proportion (>70% in our South African study) of transmitting mothers are those who seroconvert in pregnancy or who for social reasons are diagnosed late in pregnancy. As a result, now, genes associated with poor immune control of HIV are not enriched in mothers who transmit HIV to their child. These changes will likely influence the effectiveness of HLA-associated immune responses and therefore cure potential among children.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Immunol

Publication Date





CTL, HIV, NK cell, innate immunity, paediatric, Adult, Antiviral Agents, Child, Female, HIV Infections, HIV-1, Humans, Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical, Killer Cells, Natural, Male, Pregnancy, T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic