Persistence of HIV-1 Variants with Multiple Protease Inhibitor (PI)-Resistance Mutations in the Absence of PI Therapy Can Be Explained by Compensatory Fixation

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To investigate the mechanism explaining the persistence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) type 1 variants with multiple protease inhibitor (PI)-resistance mutations in the absence of PI therapy.


Longitudinal genotypic analyses were performed on sequential samples obtained from 2 HIV-1-infected patients who had stopped PI therapy for 4 years. Replication capacity (RC) was determined using recombinant viruses. Subsequently, the effect that changing individual protease mutations back to wild type has on RC was analyzed.


We observed prolonged persistence (up to 4 years) of viruses with multiple protease mutations after PI therapy was stopped, despite the fact that the RC of the viruses was severely reduced. Forcing the virus to evolve toward wild type by changing individual protease mutations to wild type was unsuccessful, because all variants displayed a decreased RC in comparison with that of their predecessors.


We propose compensatory fixation as a mechanism for the in vivo persistence of variants with multiple PI-resistance mutations in the absence of PI therapy. Viruses with multiple PI mutations have (partially) compensated for the initial loss in RC. Therefore, reversion of a single mutation causes a (further) reduction in RC and, as a consequence, the route to wild type is blocked.

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