Retrovirology 2017 05 0214(1) 29 doi 10.1186/s12977-017-0354-5
Ongoing intra-host HIV-1 evolution has been shown in individuals that naturally suppress the viremia to low levels (HIV controllers) by the analysis of the RNA in plasma compartment. Detection of evolution at the DNA proviral compartment in HIV controllers, however, has been more challenging and the precise correlation between the systemic viral suppression level and rate of reservoir’s reseeding in those individuals is not fully understood. In this sense, we examined the proviral DNA quasispecies by single genome amplification of the env gene in a cohort of 23 HIV controllers from Brazil, divided in three groups, according to the level of systemic viral suppression: (1) elite controllers with persistent undetectable viral load (PEC, n = 6); (2) elite controllers with occasional episodes of transient (51-400 copies/mL) viremia (EEC, n = 7); and (3) viremic controllers with persistent low-level (80-2000 copies/mL) viremia (VC, n = 10).
The HIV-1 diversity of the PBMC-associated proviral quasispecies in EC was significantly (P < 0.01) lower than in VC, but not significantly different between PEC and EEC groups. We detected a considerable variation in the average pairwise nucleotide distance and proportion of unique sequences in the HIV-1 proviral quasispecies of PEC and EEC. Some PEC and EEC displayed highly homogenous proviral populations with large clusters of identical sequences, while others exhibited relatively diverse proviral populations with a high proportion of unique sequences comparable to VC subjects. The long-term (10-15 years) follow-up of the HIV-1 proviral populations revealed a complete evolutionary stasis in one PEC and measurable divergence rates in one EEC [3.1 (1.2-5.6) × 10(-3) substitutions/site/year and one VC [2.9 (0.7-5.1) × 10(-3) substitutions/site/year]. CONCLUSIONS
There is no simple relationship between systemic viral suppression and intra-host proviral diversity or rate of reservoir’s reseeding in chronically infected HIV controllers. Our results demonstrate that very divergent patterns of intra-host viral diversity and divergence could be detected in the setting of natural suppression of HIV-1 replication and that ongoing evolution and reseeding of the PBMC proviral reservoir occurs in some elite controllers.