Monotypic low-level HIV viremias during antiretroviral therapy are associated with disproportionate production of X4 virions and systemic immune activation

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During effective antiretroviral therapy (ART), low-level plasma viremias (LLV) (HIV RNA >30–1000 copies/ml) can be detected intermittently. We hypothesized that systemic inflammation is associated with LLV either as the cause or result of the production of virions from clonally expanded cells.


Prospective cohort study of HIV-infected ART-naive Peruvians enrolled prior to ART and followed for 2 years. Plasma HIV RNA and peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) HIV DNA concentrations were quantified pre-ART from individuals whose plasma HIV RNA was ART-suppressed. Inflammatory biomarker concentrations were measured pre and during ART. Single-genome amplification (SGA) derived HIV env and pol genotypes from pre-ART and LLV specimens. Antiretroviral levels during ART assessed adherence. Statistical associations and phylogenetic relationships were examined.


Among 82 participants with median plasma HIV RNA less than 30 copies/ml, LLV were detected in 33 of 82 (40%), with a LLV median HIV RNA of 73 copies/ml. Participants with vs. without LLV had significantly higher pre-ART plasma HIV RNA (P < 0.001) and PBMC HIV DNA (P < 0.007); but, during ART, their antiretroviral drug levels were similar. LLV env sequences were monotypic in 17 of 28 (61%) and diverse in 11 of 28 (39%) participants. Those with the monotypic vs. diverse LLV pattern had elevated hsCRP and sCD163 (P = 0.004) and LLV with more X4 variants (P = 0.02).


In individuals with monotypic LLV sequences, higher levels of pre-ART HIV DNA and RNA, systemic inflammation and X4 viruses suggest an interaction between inflammation and the production of virions from proliferating infected cells, and that naïve T cells may be a source of LLV.

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