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Open Access Research article

Randomized pilot trial of a synbiotic dietary supplement in chronic HIV-1 infection

Marco Schunter1, Hiutung Chu1, Timothy L Hayes1, Delandy McConnell1, Sean S Crawford1, Paul A Luciw2, Stig Bengmark3, David M Asmuth4, Jennifer Brown4, Charles L Bevins1, Barbara L Shacklett14 and J William Critchfield1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of California, Davis, CA, USA

2 Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Center for Comparative Medicine, University of California, Davis, California, USA

3 Institute of Hepatology, University College of London, London, UK

4 Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, California, USA

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012, 12:84  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-84

Published: 29 June 2012



Infection with HIV-1 results in marked immunologic insults and structural damage to the intestinal mucosa, including compromised barrier function. While the development of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has been a major advancement in the treatment of HIV-1 infection, the need for novel complementary interventions to help restore intestinal structural and functional integrity remains unmet. Known properties of pre-, pro-, and synbiotics suggest that they may be useful tools in achieving this goal.


This was a 4-week parallel, placebo-controlled, randomized pilot trial in HIV-infected women on antiretroviral therapy. A synbiotic formulation (Synbiotic 2000®) containing 4 strains of probiotic bacteria (1010 each) plus 4 nondigestible, fermentable dietary fibers (2.5 g each) was provided each day, versus a fiber-only placebo formulation. The primary outcome was bacterial translocation. Secondary outcomes included the levels of supplemented bacteria in stool, the activation phenotype of peripheral T-cells and monocytes, and plasma levels of C-reactive protein and soluble CD14.


Microbial translocation, as measured by plasma bacterial 16S ribosomal DNA concentration, was not altered by synbiotic treatment. In contrast, the synbiotic formulation resulted in significantly elevated levels of supplemented probiotic bacterial strains in stool, including L. plantarum and P. pentosaceus, with the colonization of these two species being positively correlated with each other. T-cell activation phenotype of peripheral blood lymphocytes showed modest changes in response to synbiotic exposure, with HLA-DR expression slightly elevated on a minor population of CD4+ T-cells which lack expression of HLA-DR or PD-1. In addition, CD38 expression on CD8+ T-cells was slightly lower in the fiber-only group. Plasma levels of soluble CD14 and C-reactive protein were unaffected by synbiotic treatment in this study.


Synbiotic treatment for 4 weeks can successfully augment the levels of probiotic species in the gut during chronic HIV-1 infection. Associated changes in microbial translocation appear to be absent, and markers of systemic immune activation appear largely unchanged. These findings may help inform future studies aimed at testing pre- and probiotic approaches to improve gut function and mucosal immunity in chronic HIV-1 infection.

Trial registration

Clinical NCT00688311

Human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1); synbiotics; probiotics; prebiotics; microbial translocation; immune activation; highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART); combined antiretroviral therapy (CART); complementary therapy.