Latently infected CD4 lymphocytes preclude cure of HIV infection, even with the most effective antiretroviral therapy. The replication competent latent HIV reservoir has been quantified with the terminal dilution quantitative viral outgrowth assay, which induces virus propagation in CD4+ T cell culture supernatants following cellular activation. Efforts to improve the sensitivity of this inefficient assay have introduced more sensitive p24 ELISA and RNA PCR based endpoints, but these more sensitive endpoints have raised the question whether they are measuring induced replication competent or defective virions. Here we performed parallel terminal dilution assays with CD4 lymphocytes from subjects effectively treated with antiretroviral therapy. An HIV integrase inhibitor was incorporated into one set of parallel cultures to compare the frequency of cells that can be induced to produce virions to those that produce virus that can propagate and amplify with co-culture in permissive cells. The majority of cells that can be induced to generate virus particles are producing replication competent virus, thus justifying more sensitive and faster assays of this reservoir.
Keywords: HIV; Latency; Quantitative viral outgrowth; Reservoir.