Background: HIV-1 proviruses persist in people on antiretroviral therapy (ART) but most are defective and do not constitute a replication-competent reservoir. The decay of infected cells carrying intact compared with defective HIV-1 proviruses has not been well defined in people on ART.
Methods: We separately quantified intact and defective proviruses, residual plasma viremia, and markers of inflammation and activation in people on long-term ART.
Results: Among 40 participants tested longitudinally from a median of 7.1 years to 12 years after ART initiation, intact provirus levels declined significantly over time (median half-life, 7.1 years; 95% confidence interval [CI], 3.9-18), whereas defective provirus levels did not decrease. The median half-life of total HIV-1 DNA was 41.6 years (95% CI, 13.6-75). The proportion of all proviruses that were intact diminished over time on ART, from about 10% at the first on-ART time point to about 5% at the last. Intact provirus levels on ART correlated with total HIV-1 DNA and residual plasma viremia, but there was no evidence for associations between intact provirus levels and inflammation or immune activation.
Conclusions: Cells containing intact, replication-competent proviruses are selectively lost during suppressive ART. Defining the mechanisms involved should inform strategies to accelerate HIV-1 reservoir depletion.
Keywords: HIV proviruses; HIV reservoirs; immune activation; inflammation; residual viremia.
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