HIV is associated with NK cell dysfunction and expansion of adaptive-like NK cells that persist despite antiretroviral therapy (ART). We investigated the timing of NK cell perturbations during acute HIV infection and the impact of early ART initiation. PBMCs and plasma were obtained from people with HIV (PWH; all men who have sex with men; median age, 26.0 y) diagnosed during Fiebig stages I, II, III, or IV/V. Participants initiated ART a median of 3 d after diagnosis, and immunophenotyping was performed at diagnosis and longitudinally after ART. Anti-CMV Abs were assessed by ELISA. Samples from matched HIV-uninfected males were also analyzed. Proportions of adaptive NK cells (A-NKs; defined as Fcε-Receptor-1γ) were expanded at HIV diagnosis at all Fiebig stages (pooled median 66% versus 25% for controls; p < 0.001) and were not altered by early ART initiation. Abs to CMV immediate early protein were elevated in PWH diagnosed in Fiebig stages III and IV/V (p < 0.03 for both). Proportions of A-NKs defined as either Fcε-Receptor-1γ or NKG2C+/CD57+ were significantly associated with HIV DNA levels at diagnosis (p = 0.046 and 0.029, respectively) and trended toward an association after 48 wk of ART. Proportions of activated HLA-DR+/CD38+ NK cells remained elevated in PWH despite early ART initiation. NK cell activation and A-NK expansion occur very early after HIV transmission, before T cell activation, and are not altered by ART initiation during acute infection. A-NKs may contribute to HIV control and thus be useful for HIV cure.

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