Objective: Timely initiation of combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) limits latent HIV reservoir size and should also limit reservoir genetic complexity. However, the relationship between these two factors remains unclear, particularly among HIV-infected youth.
Design: Retrospective analysis of replication-competent latent HIV clones serially isolated by limiting-dilution culture from resting CD4 T-cell reservoirs from ART-suppressed, young adult participants of a historic phase I therapeutic vaccine trial (PACTG/IMPAACT-P1059).
Methods: Replication-competent latent HIV clones isolated from resting CD4 T cells of four perinatally and 10 nonperinatally infected young adults (average 22 versus 6 years uncontrolled infection, respectively) were sequenced in Pol and Nef. Within-host HIV sequence datasets were characterized with respect to their genetic diversity and inferred immune escape mutation burden.
Results: Although participants were comparable in terms of sociodemographic and HIV sampling characteristics (e.g. on average, a mean 17 Pol sequences were recovered at five timepoints over up to 70 weeks) and the length of ART suppression at study entry (average 3 years), replication-competent HIV reservoir size, genetic diversity, immune escape mutation burden and variant complexity were significantly higher among the perinatally infected participants who experienced longer durations of uncontrolled viremia. Nevertheless, viral sequences inferred to retain susceptibility to host cellular immune responses were detected in all participants, irrespective of uncontrolled viremia duration.
Conclusion: HIV elimination in late-suppressed youth may be doubly challenged by larger and more genetically complex reservoirs. Strategies that integrate host and viral genetic complexity to achieve HIV remission or cure may merit consideration in such cases.