Asymptomatic HIV infection is characterized by rapid turnover of HIV RNA in plasma and lymph nodes but not of latently infected lymph-node CD4+ T cells


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Abstract

Objectives:To study the kinetics of plasma viraemia and HIV-infected lymph-node cells in stable asymptomatic HIV infection with high CD4+ T-cell counts.Methods:Nine asymptomatic HIV-infected patients with stable CD4+ T-cell counts (510–1350 × 106/l) were treated with a triple-drug combination. Plasma viraemia was determined at days 0, 3, 7, 10, 14, 21 and 28 of treatment [Roche polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and ultrasensitive PCR assay]. Sequential lymph-node biopsies were examined in four patients before and after 4 weeks of treatment. Productively infected cells were counted in lymph-node sections (in situ hybridization). The infection rates of FACS-sorted CD4+ lymph-node T cells and the expression of single-spliced, double-spliced and full-length HIV transcripts were determined.Results:HIV plasma RNA half-lives ranged from 1.4 to 2.7 days. Viral turnover varied between 0.07 and 7.54 × 108 copies per day. The number of productively infected lymph-node cells as well as the amount of extracellular virus in germinal centres was markedly reduced during treatment, paralleled by a clearance of single-spliced, double-spliced and full-length HIV transcripts from CD4+ lymph-node T cells. Plasma viraemia remained detectable with an ultrasensitive PCR assay in three out of four patients. The percentage of lymph-node CD4+ T cells harbouring proviral DNA decreased only slightly.Conclusions:The kinetics of HIV replication are rapid in stable asymptomatic infection, and the magnitude of replication varies considerably. Productively infected lymph-node cells and extracellular virus in germinal centres undergo a rapid turnover, whereas latently infected CD4+ T cells have a lower rate of turnover. The latter may contribute substantially to viral persistence during therapy.

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