Background: Recent reports showed that functional control of HIV-1 infection for a prolonged time is possible by early antiretroviral therapy (ART); however, its underlying mechanism needs to be studied with a suitable animal model. Recently, humanized-BLT (bone marrow, liver, and thymus) mouse (hu-BLT) was shown to be an excellent model for studying HIV-1 infection. We thus tested the feasibility of studying functional control of HIV-1 infection using hu-BLT mice.
Methods: Animals in 3 treatment groups (Rx-6h, Rx-24h, and Rx-48h) and untreated group were infected with HIV-1, followed by ART initiation at 6, 24, or 48 hours postinfection and continued daily for 2 weeks. Three weeks after stopping ART, CD8 T cells were depleted from all animals. Plasma viral load was monitored weekly using droplet digital polymerase chain reaction. Percentage of CD4 and CD8 T cells were measured by flow cytometry. In situ hybridization and droplet digital polymerase chain reaction were used to detect viral RNA (vRNA) and DNA.
Results: Although control animals had high viremia throughout the study, all Rx-6h animals had undetectable plasma viral load after ART cessation. After CD8 T-cell depletion, viremia increased and CD4 T cells decreased in all animals except the Rx-6h group. Viral DNA was detected in spleens of all animals and a few vRNA cells were detected by in situ hybridization in 1 of 3 Rx-6h animals.
Conclusions: Early ART did not act as prophylaxes but, rather, can control HIV-1 productive infection and prevented CD4 T-cell depletion in hu-BLT mice. This mouse model can be used to elucidate the mechanism for functional control of HIV-1.