Wagner TA, McKernan JL, Tobin NH, Tapia KA, Mullins JI, Frenkel LM (2013). An increasing proportion of monotypic HIV-1 DNA sequences during antiretroviral treatment suggests proliferation of HIV-infected cells. Journal of virology, 87(3), 1770-8. (pubmed) (doi)
Understanding how HIV-1 persists during effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) should inform strategies to cure HIV-1 infection. We hypothesize that proliferation of HIV-1-infected cells contributes to persistence of HIV-1 infection during suppressive ART. This predicts that identical or monotypic HIV-1 DNA sequences will increase over time during ART. We analyzed 1,656 env and pol sequences generated following single-genome amplification from the blood and sputum of six individuals during long-term suppressive ART. The median proportion of monotypic sequences increased from 25.0% prior to ART to 43.2% after a median of 9.8 years of suppressive ART. The proportion of monotypic sequences was estimated to increase 3.3% per year (95% confidence interval, 2.3 to 4.4%; P < 0.001). Drug resistance mutations were not more common in the monotypic sequences, arguing against viral replication during times with lower antiretroviral concentrations. Bioinformatic analysis found equivalent genetic distances of monotypic and nonmonotypic sequences from the predicted founder virus sequence, suggesting that the relative increase in monotypic variants over time is not due to selective survival of cells with viruses from the time of acute infection or from just prior to ART initiation. Furthermore, while the total HIV-1 DNA load decreased during ART, the calculated concentration of monotypic sequences was stable in children, despite growth over nearly a decade of observation, consistent with proliferation of infected CD4(+) T cells and slower decay of monotypic sequences. Our findings suggest that proliferation of cells with proviruses is a likely mechanism of HIV-1 DNA persistence, which should be considered when designing strategies to eradicate HIV-1 infection.