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This article is part of the supplement: The OptAIDS project: towards global halting of HIV/AIDS

Open Access Open Badges Research

Reconciling conflicting clinical studies of antioxidant supplementation as HIV therapy: a mathematical approach

Rolina D van Gaalen and Lindi M Wahl*

Author Affiliations

Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2009, 9(Suppl 1):S12  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-S1-S12

Published: 18 November 2009



Small, highly reactive molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS) play a crucial role in cell signalling and infection control. However, high levels of ROS can cause significant damage to cell structure and function. Studies have shown that infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) results in increased ROS concentrations, which can in turn lead to faster progression of HIV infection, and cause CD4+ T-cell apoptosis. To counteract these effects, clinical studies have explored the possibility of raising antioxidant levels, with mixed results.


In this paper, a mathematical model is used to explore this potential therapy, both analytically and numerically. For the numerical work, we use clinical data from both HIV-negative and HIV-positive injection drug users (IDUs) to estimate model parameters; these groups have lower baseline concentrations of antioxidants than non-IDU controls.


Our model suggests that increases in CD4+ T cell concentrations can result from moderate levels of daily antioxidant supplementation, while excessive supplementation has the potential to cause periods of immunosuppression.


We discuss implications for HIV therapy in IDUs and other populations which may have low baseline concentrations of antioxidants.