Background: The degree to which human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) continues to replicate during antiretroviral therapy (ART) is controversial. We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to assess whether raltegravir intensification reduces low-level viral replication, as defined by an increase in the level of 2-long terminal repeat (2-LTR) circles.
Methods: Thirty-one subjects with an ART-suppressed plasma HIV RNA level of <40 copies/mL and a CD4(+) T-cell count of ≥350 cells/mm(3) for ≥1 year were randomly assigned to receive raltegravir 400 mg twice daily or placebo for 24 weeks. 2-LTR circles were analyzed by droplet digital polymerase chain reaction at weeks 0, 1, 2, and 8.
Results: The median duration of ART suppression was 3.8 years. The raltegravir group had a significant increase in the level of 2-LTR circles, compared to the placebo group. The week 1 to 0 ratio was 8.8-fold higher (P = .0025) and the week 2 to 0 ratio was 5.7-fold higher (P = .023) in the raltegravir vs. placebo group. Intensification also led to a statistically significant decrease in the D-dimer level, compared to placebo (P = .045).
Conclusions: Raltegravir intensification resulted in a rapid increase in the level of 2-LTR circles in a proportion of subjects, indicating that low-level viral replication persists in some individuals even after long-term ART. Intensification also reduced the D-dimer level, a coagulation biomarker that is predictive of morbidity and mortality among patients receiving treatment for HIV infection.
Keywords: 2-LTR circles; D-dimer; HIV; ongoing viral replication; raltegravir intensification.