Quantitative assessment of cell-associated and cell-free virus in cervicovaginal samples of HIV-1-infected women

Clin Microbiol Infect. 1999 Oct;5(10):605-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-0691.1999.tb00416.x.


Objective: To examine the amount of cell-free and cell-associated virus in cervicovaginal secretions (CVS) of HIV-infected women.

Methods: Paired cervicovaginal and blood samples from 61 seropositive women were quantitatively evaluated by competitive polymerase chain reaction (cPCR) and reverse transcription-PCR (cRT-PCR) for: (1) genomic RNA from plasma and cell-free CVS, and (2) unspliced (u/s) RNA transcripts and proviral DNA in cells from secretions.

Results: HIV DNA was detected in 42.6%, u/s transcripts in 32.7% and cell-free HIV RNA in 31.1% of 61 cervicovaginal samples. The median copy numbers of HIV DNA, u/s transcripts, and cell-free RNA were 125 copies/10(5) cells, 40 copies/10(5) cells, and 300 copies/mL of secretion, respectively. Nineteen of 26 (73.1%) and 17 of 26 (65.3%) women positive for DNA were also positive for RNA transcripts and cell-free RNA, respectively (P<0.001). A significant correlation between the amounts of cell-free and u/s transcripts was also found (Spearman Rho 0.618, P=0.014). The prevalences of u/s transcripts and cell-free RNA were 42.6% and 53.8% respectively among patients with detectable blood RNA, and 22.9% (P=0.09) and 14.3% (P=0.0017) among patients with undetectable blood RNA. In stepwise logistic regression, cell-free RNA was independently associated with the presence of detectable blood viremia. The amount of HIV DNA was lower among subiects currently under treatment (50 copies/10(5) cells) than in untreated subjects (250 copies/10(5) cells) (P=0.037).

Conclusions: Both cell-free and cell-associated HIV could be detected and quantitated in CVS, providing a means to examine the level of viral activity in the female genital tract.