Antiretroviral therapy suppresses but does not cure HIV-1 infection due to the existence of a long-lived reservoir of latently infected cells. The reservoir has an estimated half-life of 44 mo and is largely composed of clones of infected CD4+ T cells. The long half-life appears to result in part from expansion and contraction of infected CD4+ T cell clones. However, the mechanisms that govern this process are poorly understood. To determine whether the clones might result from and be maintained by exposure to antigen, we measured responses of reservoir cells to a small subset of antigens from viruses that produce chronic or recurrent infections. Despite the limited panel of test antigens, clones of antigen-responsive CD4+ T cells containing defective or intact latent proviruses were found in seven of eight individuals studied. Thus, chronic or repeated exposure to antigen may contribute to the longevity of the HIV-1 reservoir by stimulating the clonal expansion of latently infected CD4+ T cells.
© 2020 Mendoza et al.