HIV-1-RNA in seminal plasma correlates with detection of HIV-1-DNA in semen cells, but not with CMV shedding, among MSM on successful antiretroviral regimens

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Intermittent seminal HIV-RNA detection can occur in MSM despite concomitant plasma virological control on combined ART (cART). We undertook the present study to determine if seminal HIV detection was associated with seminal cytomegalovirus (CMV) detection or detection of HIV-infected cells in semen.


Longitudinal semen samples from HIV-1-infected MSM on successful cART enrolled in the EVARIST ANRS EP 49 study were analysed. We first conducted a case–control analysis (ratio 1 : 3) to assess HIV-DNA detection in semen cells in the 20 patients with detectable HIV-RNA in seminal plasma (cases) matched with 60 participants with undetectable HIV-RNA (controls) based on total HIV-DNA load in blood cells. Second, we measured CMV-DNA in all seminal plasma samples.


HIV-1-DNA in semen cells was detected on at least one sample visit in 12/20 cases and 11/60 controls. Detection of HIV-RNA in seminal plasma was associated significantly with the detection of HIV-DNA in semen cells [OR, 7.6 (95% CI, 2.1–28.4); P = 0.002] when adjusted on total HIV-DNA in blood cells. CMV-DNA was detected in 107/273 seminal plasma samples with a median value of 3.62 log10 copies/mL (IQR, 2.83–4.38), yielding a prevalence of 39.2%. Seminal CMV-DNA shedding [OR, 1.5 (95% CI, 0.6–3.6); P = 0.343] was not associated with the risk of detection of HIV-RNA in seminal plasma.


The presence of HIV-DNA in semen cells was predictive of HIV-RNA detection, suggesting that viral particles arise through local HIV replication by infected semen cells. Despite virological control, compartmentalization of HIV in the genital tract might act in residual replication and transmission.

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