Zhu T, Corey L, Hwangbo Y, Lee JM, Learn GH, Mullins JI, McElrath MJ (2003). Persistence of extraordinarily low levels of genetically homogeneous human immunodeficiency virus type 1 in exposed seronegative individuals. Journal of virology, 77(11), 6108-16. (pubmed)
Some individuals remain inexplicably seronegative and lack evidence for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection by conventional serologic or virologic testing despite repeated high-risk virus exposures. Here, we examined 10 exposed seronegative (ES) individuals exhibiting HIV-1-specific cytotoxicity for the presence of HIV-1. We discovered HIV-1 DNA in resting CD4(+) T cells (mean, 0.05 +/- 0.01 copies per million cells) at multiple visits spanning 69 to 130 weeks in two ES individuals at levels that were on average 10(4)- to 10(6)-fold lower than those of other HIV-1-infected populations reported. Sequences of HIV-1 envelope and gag genes remained markedly homogeneous, indicating little to undetectable virus replication. These results provide the evidence for HIV-1 infection in ES individuals below the detection limit of standard assays, suggesting that extraordinary control of infection can occur. The two HIV-infected ES individuals remained healthy and were not superinfected with other HIV-1 strains despite continued high-risk sexual exposures to multiple HIV-infected partners. Understanding the mechanisms that confer diminished replicative capacity of HIV-1 in these hosts is paramount to developing strategies for protection against and control of HIV-1 infection.