The role of HIV integration in viral persistence: no more whistling past the proviral graveyard

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A substantial research effort has been directed to identifying strategies to eradicate or control HIV infection without a requirement for combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). A number of obstacles prevent HIV eradication, including low-level viral persistence during cART, long-term persistence of HIV-infected cells, and latent infection of resting CD4+ T cells. Mechanisms of persistence remain uncertain, but integration of the provirus into the host genome represents a central event in replication and pathogenesis of all retroviruses, including HIV. Analysis of HIV proviruses in CD4+ lymphocytes from individuals after prolonged cART revealed that a substantial proportion of the infected cells that persist have undergone clonal expansion and frequently have proviruses integrated in genes associated with regulation of cell growth. These data suggest that integration may influence persistence and clonal expansion of HIV-infected cells after cART is introduced, and these processes may represent key mechanisms for HIV persistence. Determining the diversity of host genes with integrants in HIV-infected cells that persist for prolonged periods may yield useful information regarding pathways by which infected cells persist for prolonged periods. Moreover, many integrants are defective, and new studies are required to characterize the role of clonal expansion in the persistence of replication-competent HIV.

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