Objective: To investigate differences in viral and proviral load between the peripheral blood and the intestinal mucosal immune system in HIV-infected patients.
Design: HIV-1 p24 and HIV DNA content were compared in blood samples and intestinal biopsies from HIV-infected patients.
Methods: Intestinal biopsies and peripheral blood were simultaneously obtained from 27 HIV-infected patients undergoing diagnostic endoscopy. The p24 concentrations were measured in serum and homogenized intestinal biopsies by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay after acid-dissociation of immune complexes. Proviral load was determined in blood and intestinal biopsies by a quantitative competitive polymerase chain reaction amplifying the HIV-1 nef gene from genomic DNA.
Results: No significant differences were found in proviral load comparing HIV copies per 1.5 x 10(5) cell equivalents in blood [2650 (600-44000)] and intestinal biopsies [4200 (1325-19 625)]. Paired analysis revealed a strong positive correlation between serum and mucosal proviral load. In contrast, HIV core protein p24 was detected in intestinal biopsies from 18 patients in much higher concentrations than in serum [858 (262-4111) pg/g versus 34 (9-242) pg/g; P < 0.005]. The p24 concentrations in serum and intestinal biopsies did not correlate and no significant correlation was observed in serum or intestinal biopsies between proviral load and p24 concentrations. No clear correlations were observed between clinical parameters and HIV DNA or HIV p24 levels in blood or biopsies.
Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate a homogenous distribution of HIV proviral load in the peripheral blood and the intestinal mucosal immune system. The high viral antigen load in the intestine therefore indicates that mucosal HIV production is upregulated at the transcriptional and/or translational level. The intestinal mucosa is a major reservoir for HIV in HIV-infected patients.