beta 2-microglobulin levels were determined in the serum of 18 initially asymptomatic HIV-1 p24 antigenaemic subjects who were treated with zidovudine (+/- acyclovir) and who were followed for 2 1/2 years. The median serum beta 2-microglobulin level at week 0 was 2.5 mg/l and decreased to 2.3 mg/l after 12 weeks of treatment (p = 0.001). A correlation was found between individual changes in serum beta 2-microglobulin levels and individual changes in serum p24 antigen levels during the first 48 weeks of treatment (p less than 0.05). Six out of 18 subjects progressed to AIDS after 60-126 weeks of treatment. In this group during a period of more than one year before disease progression median serum beta 2-microglobulin levels increased from 2.5 mg/l to 3.3 mg/l (p = 0.03) and median CD4+ cell counts decreased from 0.3 x 10(9)/l to 0.08 x 10(9)/l (p = 0.03), while in that period the pattern of serum p24 antigen levels was inconsistent. Although the variability in serum beta 2-microglobulin levels appeared to make this marker unsuitable for management decisions in individuals, a decline in beta 2-microglobulin levels was found to parallel a decline in p24 antigen levels during the early phase of zidovudine treatment. Moreover, after prolonged treatment, rising beta 2-microglobulin levels--in contrast to p24 antigen levels--were shown to have predictive value for disease progression.
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