Kelsie Brooks 1 , Bradley R. Jones 2 , Dario A. Dilernia 1 , Daniel J. Wilkins 1 , Daniel T. Claiborne 1 , Samantha McInally 1 , Jill Gilmour 3 , William Kilembe 4 , Jeffrey B. Joy 2 , 5 , Susan A. Allen 4 , 6 , Zabrina L. Brumme 2 , 7 , Eric Hunter 1 , 6 , *
3 June 2020
The HIV-1 reservoir consists of latently infected cells that persist despite antiretroviral therapy (ART). Elucidating the proviral genetic composition of the reservoir, particularly in the context of pre-therapy viral diversity, is therefore important to understanding reservoir formation and the persistence of latently infected cells. Here we investigate reservoir proviral variants from 13 Zambian acutely-infected individuals with additional pre-therapy sampling for a unique comparison to the ART-naïve quasispecies. We identified complete transmitted/founder (TF) viruses from seroconversion plasma samples, and additionally amplified and sequenced HIV-1 from plasma obtained one year post-infection and just prior to ART initiation. While the majority of proviral variants in the reservoir were most closely related to viral variants from the latest pre-therapy time point, we also identified reservoir proviral variants dating to or near the time of infection, and to intermediate time points between infection and treatment initiation. Reservoir proviral variants differing by five or fewer nucleotide changes from the TF virus persisted during treatment in five individuals, including proviral variants that exactly matched the TF in two individuals, one of whom had remained ART-naïve for more than six years. Proviral variants during treatment were significantly less divergent from the TF virus than plasma variants present at the last ART-naïve time point. These findings indicate that reservoir proviral variants are archived throughout infection, recapitulating much of the viral diversity that arises throughout untreated HIV-1 infection, and strategies to target and reduce the reservoir must therefore permit for the clearance of proviruses encompassing this extensive diversity.
Despite reducing viremia to levels below the limit of detection in standard assays, effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) does not eradicate cells latently infected with HIV-1. These cells serve as a reservoir for viral rebound if therapy is interrupted; thus, understanding the composition of the reservoir may yield further targets for HIV-1 cure strategies. We have taken a genetic approach to elucidating the reservoir in 13 Zambian subtype C seroconvertors who were followed longitudinally through ART initiation and virologic suppression. In five of the 13 individuals, provirus sequences identical to or differing by five or fewer nucleotides from the transmitted/founder virus were detected, indicating archiving and persistence of early infection variants for more than six years following infection. While the majority of proviral variants in latently infected cells were most closely related to plasma virus circulating immediately prior to treatment initiation, additional variants dating to intermediate time points in the infection were also observed. These findings demonstrate that virus is archived during all stages of ART-naïve infection, and these variants persist throughout ART. HIV-1 cure strategies to eliminate the reservoir must address the broad genetic diversity of a within-host proviral quasispecies including variants archived from acute through chronic infection.