Ex vivo explant models are used to characterize in vitro efficacy of preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) agents. Tissue is challenged with virus in culture and HIV-1 p24 levels are quantified with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) on supernatants collected throughout a 14-21-day incubation. Due to the narrow dynamic range of HIV-1 p24 kits, we evaluated whether droplet digital PCR (ddPCR) provides an alternative method to quantify HIV-1 replication in supernatant samples. We used samples from the MWRI-01 study, which evaluated the pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic profile of long-acting rilpivirine using the explant model (McGowan et al. Lancet HIV 2016). HIV-1 pol RNA was measured with ddPCR, either directly with a one-step method or reverse transcribed to cDNA before ddPCR (two-step method) on supernatants from the MWRI-01 study. Previously analyzed HIV-1 p24 antigen levels (Alliance; Perkin-Elmer) were available for comparison purposes. Both ddPCR methods strongly correlated with HIV-1 p24 and displayed similar patterns of HIV-1 suppression before and after rilpivirine. Compared to the p24 ELISA, two-step and one-step ddPCR reduced the amount of hands-on time by approximately one-half and two-thirds, respectively. ddPCR also required less sample and based on p24 versus ddPCR correlation, could potentially reduce the explant culture time from 14 to 10 days (r2 = 0.78, p < .001) due to the increased sensitivity of ddPCR. We demonstrate that ddPCR is a suitable alternative to HIV-1 p24 ELISA to quantify HIV-1 infection in the explant model and has the potential to decrease explant culture time.
Keywords: HIV-1; HIV-1 p24; ddPCR; explant challenge; qPCR.
Conflict of interest statement
No competing financial interests exist.
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