Objective: The contribution of HLA-DR+ memory CD4 T cells to the HIV reservoir during prolonged antiretroviral therapy is unclear as these cells are commonly excluded when assessing for replication-competent HIV. To address this issue, we examined the distribution of genetically intact HIV DNA within HLA-DR- and HLA-DR+ memory CD4 T cells and the RNA transcriptional profile of these cells during antiretroviral therapy.
Design/methods: Full-length DNA sequencing was used to examine the HIV DNA landscape within HLA-DR+ and HLA-DR- memory CD4 T cells. RNA quantification and sequencing was used to interrogate the relationship between HLA-DR status and HIV RNA transcription.
Results: HLA-DR+ CD4 T cells contained a high frequency of genetically intact HIV genomes, contributing over half of the genetically intact viral sequences to the reservoir. Expansions of genetically identical sequences were identified in all T-cell subsets, indicating that cellular proliferation maintains genetically intact and defective viral DNA during therapy. Intracellular HIV RNA levels in HLA-DR+ and HLA-DR- T cells were not statistically different by either long terminal repeat quantitative PCR quantification or single-genome RNA sequencing of the p6-RT region.
Conclusion: The high proportion of intact viral DNA sequences in the proliferative HLA-DR+ subset suggests they are critical in maintaining HIV infection during effective therapy. As such, these cells should be included in any immune intervention targeting HIV during effective therapy.