Signatures of immune selection in intact and defective proviruses distinguish HIV-1 elite controllers

Sci Transl Med. 2021 Dec 15;13(624):eabl4097. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abl4097. Epub 2021 Dec 15.


Increasing evidence suggests that durable drug-free control of HIV-1 replication is enabled by effective cellular immune responses that may induce an attenuated viral reservoir configuration with a weaker ability to drive viral rebound. Here, we comprehensively tracked effects of antiviral immune responses on intact and defective proviral sequences from elite controllers (ECs), analyzing both classical escape mutations and HIV-1 chromosomal integration sites as biomarkers of antiviral immune selection pressure. We observed that, within ECs, defective proviruses were commonly located in permissive genic euchromatin positions, which represented an apparent contrast to autologous intact proviruses that were frequently located in heterochromatin regions; this suggests differential immune selection pressure on intact versus defective proviruses in ECs. In comparison to individuals receiving antiretroviral therapy, intact and defective proviruses from ECs showed reduced frequencies of escape mutations in cytotoxic T cell epitopes and antibody contact regions, possibly due to the small and poorly inducible reservoir that may be insufficient to drive effective viral escape in ECs. About 15% of ECs harbored nef deletions in intact proviruses, consistent with increased viral vulnerability to host immunity in the setting of nef dysfunction. Together, these results suggest a distinct signature of immune footprints in proviral sequences from ECs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Elite Controllers
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte
  • HIV Infections*
  • HIV-1* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Proviruses / genetics
  • Viral Load


  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte