Objective: To evaluate the potential use of 2-long terminal repeats (LTR) HIV circular DNA quantification for the monitoring of ongoing virus replication in treated HIV-1-infected patients.
Design and methods: In a longitudinal setting, where the natural course of HIV-1 infection was in most cases disrupted by continuous or discontinuous antiviral therapy, 2-LTR circles of HIV-1 DNA were quantified in serial peripheral blood mononuclear cell samples, selected in retrospect from 16 patients with chronic HIV-1 infection, using quantitative real-time PCR. We compared variations of 2-LTR circle level with concomitant variations in plasma viral RNA level and with the frequency of productively infected cells and chromosome associated proviral DNA copy numbers in patient's peripheral blood mononuclear cells.
Results: Antiviral treatment led to a sharp decrease in plasma viraemia and infectious cell frequency. In contrast, we found that levels of proviral DNA and 2-LTR circles were significantly lower under treatment only when groups of specimens that were homogeneous, with respect both to plasma viraemia and infectious cell frequency, were compared. Moreover, during the time of undetectable plasma viraemia, scarcely any decline in proviral DNA or 2-LTR circle levels was observed.
Conclusions: The low impact of antiviral treatment on 2-LTR circle levels in vivo, when plasma viraemia and infectious cell frequency both dramatically decline lead us to conclude that 2-LTR circles should not be used for the monitoring of recent viral replication in treated patients.