A population at low census might go extinct or instead transition into exponential growth to become firmly established. Whether this pivotal event occurs for a within-host pathogen can be the difference between health and illness. Here, we define the principles governing whether HIV-1 spread among cells fails or becomes established by coupling stochastic modeling with laboratory experiments. Following ex vivo activation of latently infected CD4 T cells without de novo infection, stochastic cell division and death contributes to high variability in the magnitude of initial virus release. Transition to exponential HIV-1 spread often fails due to release of an insufficient amount of replication-competent virus. Establishment of exponential growth occurs when virus produced from multiple infected cells exceeds a critical population size. We quantitatively define the crucial transition to exponential viral spread. Thwarting this process would prevent HIV transmission or rebound from the latent reservoir.
Keywords: Allee effect; HIV; critical threshold; exponential growth; latency; latent reservoir; mathematical modeling; population dynamics; rebound; viral dynamics.
Published by Elsevier Inc.