Selective Decay of Intact HIV-1 Proviral DNA on Antiretroviral Therapy

J Infect Dis. 2021 Feb 3;223(2):225-233. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiaa532.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-HIV Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / virology
  • DNA, Viral
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • HIV-1 / genetics*
  • HIV-1 / immunology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proviruses / drug effects*
  • Proviruses / genetics*
  • RNA, Viral
  • Time Factors
  • Viral Load*


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • DNA, Viral
  • RNA, Viral