Antiretroviral therapy (ART) cannot eradicate human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and a rapid rebound of virus replication follows analytical treatment interruption (ATI) in the vast majority of HIV-infected individuals. Sustained control of HIV replication without ART has been documented in a subset of individuals, defined as posttreatment controllers (PTCs). The key determinants of post-ART viral control remain largely unclear. Here, we identified 7 SIVmac239-infected rhesus macaques (RMs), defined as PTCs, who started ART 8 weeks postinfection, continued ART for >7 months, and controlled plasma viremia at <104 copies/ml for up to 8 months after ATI and <200 copies/ml at the latest time point. We characterized immunologic and virologic features associated with post-ART SIV control in blood, lymph node (LN), and colorectal (RB) biopsy samples compared to 15 noncontroller (NC) RMs. Before ART initiation, PTCs had higher CD4 T cell counts, lower plasma viremia, and SIV-DNA content in blood and LN compared to NCs, but had similar CD8 T cell function. While levels of intestinal CD4 T cells were similar, PTCs had higher frequencies of Th17 cells. On ART, PTCs had significantly lower levels of residual plasma viremia and SIV-DNA content in blood and tissues. After ATI, SIV-DNA content rapidly increased in NCs, while it remained stable or even decreased in PTCs. Finally, PTCs showed immunologic benefits of viral control after ATI, including higher CD4 T cell levels and reduced immune activation. Overall, lower plasma viremia, reduced cell-associated SIV-DNA, and preserved Th17 homeostasis, including at pre-ART, are the main features associated with sustained viral control after ATI in SIV-infected RMs.IMPORTANCE While effective, antiretroviral therapy is not a cure for HIV infection. Therefore, there is great interest in achieving viral remission in the absence of antiretroviral therapy. Posttreatment controllers represent a small subset of individuals who are able to control HIV after cessation of antiretroviral therapy, but characteristics associated with these individuals have been largely limited to peripheral blood analysis. Here, we identified 7 SIV-infected rhesus macaques that mirrored the human posttreatment controller phenotype and performed immunologic and virologic analysis of blood, lymph node, and colorectal biopsy samples to further understand the characteristics that distinguish them from noncontrollers. Lower viral burden and preservation of immune homeostasis, including intestinal Th17 cells, both before and after ART, were shown to be two major factors associated with the ability to achieve posttreatment control. Overall, these results move the field further toward understanding of important characteristics of viral control in the absence of antiretroviral therapy.
Keywords: HIV-1; PTC; SIV; Th17; analytic treatment interruption; posttreatment controller; viral rebound.
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