Transient high levels of viremia in patients with primary human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection

N Engl J Med. 1991 Apr 4;324(14):961-4. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199104043241405.


Background: The rapidly evolving clinical picture of primary infection with the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) suggests that a better understanding of the kinetics of viral replication in vivo during the short period before seroconversion may provide insight into the pathogenesis of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Methods and results: Titers of infectious HIV-1 were determined by end-point-dilution culture in sequential samples of plasma and peripheral-blood mononuclear cells from four patients with primary infection, with peak titers of 1000 to 10,000 tissue-culture-infective doses per milliliter of plasma and 100 to 10,000 infective doses per 10(6) peripheral-blood mononuclear cells. The high viral burden in mononuclear cells was confirmed by quantitative studies using a polymerase-chain-reaction method. In as little as 10 days, the high HIV-1 load in both plasma and cells decreased spontaneously and precipitously, at least 100-fold, in all four patients.

Conclusions: Although p24 core antigenemia and viral isolation have previously been described during primary HIV-1 infection, this report documents the large viral burden during the acute phase of infection. The rapid and spontaneous decline in the viral load suggests an effective immune response in the host that, if understood, may be used to combat AIDS.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / microbiology*
  • Adult
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Gene Products, gag / immunology
  • HIV Antigens / analysis
  • HIV Core Protein p24
  • HIV Seropositivity / immunology
  • HIV Seropositivity / microbiology
  • HIV-1 / genetics
  • HIV-1 / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / microbiology
  • Male
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Viral Core Proteins / immunology
  • Viremia / microbiology
  • Virus Replication


  • DNA, Viral
  • Gene Products, gag
  • HIV Antigens
  • HIV Core Protein p24
  • Viral Core Proteins