Detectable HIV-RNA in semen of HIV controllers

PLoS One. 2017 Aug 16;12(8):e0183376. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0183376. eCollection 2017.


Background: Whether spontaneous low levels of HIV-1 RNA in blood plasma correlate with low levels of HIV-1 RNA in seminal plasma has never been investigated in HIV controller (HIC) men so far.

Methods: HIC men enrolled in the ANRS CODEX cohort were eligible for the present study if they had no symptoms of sexually transmitted infections (STI). Two paired samples of blood and semen were collected four weeks apart. HIV-RNA was quantified in blood plasma (bpVL) and in seminal plasma (spVL), and cell-associated HIV-DNA was quantified in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and in non-sperm cells (NSC). Spearman rho tests were used to estimate correlations between bpVL and spVL.

Results: Ten men were enrolled. At Day 0 (D0), spVL was detectable in four patients: 458; 552; 256 copies/mL and PCR signal detectable below limit of quantification (LoQ, 40 copies/mL). At Day 28 (D28), spVL was detectable in the same four participants in whom spVL was detectable at D0 with 582; 802; 752 and 50 copies/mL, respectively. HIV-DNA was detectable below LoQ in NSC of one patient at D0 visit. No patient had detectable HIV-DNA in NSC at D28 visit. At D0, bpVL and spVL were highly positively correlated (Spearman rho: 0.94; p = 0.0001). Similar results were found at D28.

Conclusion: We show that HIV-RNA can be detected in the semen of HIC men, with levels positively correlated with those measured concomitantly in blood plasma. HIC men should be aware of the risk of HIV genital shedding, especially if viral blips are reported.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • HIV Infections / blood*
  • HIV Infections / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • RNA, Viral / blood*
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism*
  • Semen / chemistry*
  • Young Adult


  • RNA, Viral

Grant support

This study was funded by a grant from the French National Agency for Research on AIDS and viral hepatitis (ANRS). The funder had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.