Lifespan of effector memory CD4+ T cells determined by replication-incompetent integrated HIV-1 provirus

AIDS. 2014 May 15;28(8):1091-9. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000000223.


Objective: Determining the precise lifespan of human T-cell is challenging due to the inability of standard techniques to distinguish between dividing and dying cells. Here, we measured the lifespan of a pool of T cells that were derived from a single cell 'naturally' labelled with a single integrated clone of a replication-incompetent HIV-1 provirus.

Design/methods: Utilizing a combination of techniques, we were able to sequence/map an integration site of a unique provirus with a stop codon at position 42 of the HIV-1 protease. In-vitro reconstruction of this provirus into an infectious clone confirmed its inability to replicate. By combining cell separation and integration site-specific PCR, we were able to follow the fate of this single provirus in multiple T-cell subsets over a 20-year period. As controls, a number of additional integrated proviruses were also sequenced.

Results: The replication-incompetent HIV-1 provirus was solely contained in the pool of effector memory CD4 T cells for 17 years. The percentage of the total effector memory CD4 T cells containing the replication-incompetent provirus peaked at 1% with a functional half-life of 11.1 months. In the process of sequencing multiple proviruses, we also observed high levels of lethal mutations in the peripheral blood pool of proviruses.

Conclusion: These data indicate that human effector memory CD4 T cells are able to persist in vivo for more than 17 years without detectably reverting to a central memory phenotype. A secondary observation is that the fraction of the pool of integrated HIV-1 proviruses capable of replicating may be considerably less than the 12% currently noted in the literature.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA, Viral / blood
  • HIV-1 / genetics
  • HIV-1 / immunology*
  • HIV-1 / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory / immunology*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Proviruses / genetics
  • Proviruses / immunology*
  • Proviruses / pathogenicity*
  • RNA, Viral / blood
  • Virus Replication


  • DNA, Viral
  • RNA, Viral