The role of macrophages in the pathogenesis and progression of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-related infection is substantiated by in vitro and in vivo evidence. The unique ability to survive HIV infection and produce viral particles for long periods is postulated. Detailed studies of this phenomenon are lacking. The dynamics of HIV-1 replication and cumulative virus production was studied in long-term cultures of macrophages in the presence or in the absence of antiviral drugs. Multiply spliced and unspliced HIV-RNA production was assessed by quantitative PCR, and the number of infected cells was monitored by FACS analysis. Cumulative HIV-1 production was determined by a trapezoidal equation, including such parameters as times of collection and experimental values of genomic-RNA and p24 gag antigen. Unspliced and multiply spliced HIV-RNA increased linearly after macrophage infection; reached levels of 1.5 x 10(8) and 2.8 x 10(5) copies/10(5) cells, respectively, at day 10; and then remained stable throughout the course of the experiment. Cumulative production of genomic-RNA and p24 gag antigen was 10(10) copies/10(6) cells and 10(7) pg/10(6) cells, respectively, with an average of >200 virus particles produced daily by each macrophage. AZT decreased the cumulative production of both genomic-RNA and p24 gag antigen down to 2.5 x 10(9) copies and 1.1 x 10(6) pg/10(6) cells (73.8% and 88.9% inhibition, respectively) up to day 50 without virus breakthrough. Ritonavir had a limited, but consistent, efficacy on the release of mature virus proteins (about 40% inhibition), but not on HIV-RNA production. In conclusion, the long-term dynamics and the high cumulative virus production that characterize HIV-1 infection of macrophages underscore the peculiar role of these cells as a persistently infected reservoir of HIV.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.