HIV Excision Utilizing CRISPR/Cas9 Technology: Attacking the Proviral Quasispecies in Reservoirs to Achieve a Cure

MOJ Immunol. 2014 Oct 17;1(4):00022. doi: 10.15406/moji.2014.01.00022.


Recently several gene-editing technologies developed are being explored for their potential utility in providing new and unique treatments for HIV. One of these technologies is the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas)9 system. This system is being explored for its utility against host genes important to HIV infection, namely the HIV coreceptor CCR5, and for excision of the integrated genome from infected cells by targeting selected genes or genomic regions, especially the HIV-1 promoter or long terminal repeat (LTR). One of the major hurdles with the development of this technology for use in patients is defining the LTR sequence spectrum within the viral quasispecies present in the integrated virus and how that effects the number of guide RNAs (gRNAs) required to completely excise all proviral genomes. In this study, the Drexel Medicine CNS AIDS Research and Eradication Study (CARES) Cohort was utilized to demonstrate that [1] the predominant sequence of the integrated proviral LTR within the PBMC compartment shows a decrease in the amount of variation per year regardless of the type of therapy; [2] predominant HIV-1 LTR sequence undergoes continued genetic change with respect to the predominant genotype in these cells for at least 6 years while on effective suppressive ART; [3] using next generation sequencing (NGS), to demonstrate that 4 of the 8 patient samples examined could have a complete gRNA regimen designed to target all known quasispecies; and [4] length of HAART therapy may reduce the number of gRNA required to eradicate provirus as shown by NGS and gRNA design for longitudinal samples of patient A0017 in the CARES cohort. Overall, these studies demonstrate the feasibility of addressing at least one of the major technological challenges of CRISPR/Cas9-mediated HIV-1 proviral genome eradication involving the effective targeting of all viral quasispecies in a given patient sample.

Keywords: CRISPR/cas9; HIV; excision; guide RNA; memory T cells.