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HIV infection affects up to 30% of children presenting with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in Africa and is associated with increased mortality. Children with SAM are treated similarly regardless of HIV status, although mechanisms of nutritional recovery in HIV and/or SAM are not well understood. We performed a secondary analysis of a clinical trial and plasma proteomics data among children with complicated SAM in Kenya and Malawi. Compared to children with SAM without HIV (n = 113), HIV-infected children (n = 54) had evidence (false discovery rate (FDR) corrected p < 0.05) of metabolic stress, including enriched pathways related to inflammation and lipid metabolism. Moreover, we observed reduced plasma levels of zinc-α-2-glycoprotein, butyrylcholinesterase, and increased levels of complement C2 resembling findings in metabolic syndrome, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. HIV was also associated (FDR corrected p < 0.05) with higher plasma levels of inflammatory chemokines. Considering evidence of biomarkers of metabolic stress, it is of potential concern that our current treatment strategy for SAM regardless of HIV status involves a high-fat therapeutic diet. The results of this study suggest a need for clinical trials of therapeutic foods that meet the specific metabolic needs of children with HIV and SAM.

Original publication





Scientific reports

Publication Date





Department of Gastroenterology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.