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Ongoing HIV-1 evolution and reservoir reseeding in two elite controllers with genetically diverse peripheral proviral quasispecies.

BACKGROUND: Elite controllers (EC) are human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive individuals who can maintain low viral loads for extended periods without antiretroviral therapy due to multifactorial and individual characteristics. Most have a small HIV-1 reservoir composed of identical proviral sequences maintained by clonal expansion of infected CD4+ T cells. However, some have a more diverse peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC)-associated HIV-1 reservoir with unique sequences.

OBJECTIVES: To understand the turnover dynamics of the PBMC-associated viral quasispecies in ECs with relatively diverse circulating proviral reservoirs.

METHODS: We performed single genome amplification of the env gene at three time points during six years in two EC with high intra-host HIV DNA diversity.

FINDINGS: Both EC displayed quite diverse PBMCs-associated viral quasispecies (mean env diversity = 1.9-4.1%) across all time-points comprising both identical proviruses that are probably clonally expanded and unique proviruses with evidence of ongoing evolution. HIV-1 env glycosylation pattern suggests that ancestral and evolving proviruses may display different phenotypes of resistance to broadly neutralising antibodies consistent with persistent immune pressure. Evolving viruses may progressively replace the ancestral ones or may remain as minor variants in the circulating proviral population.

MAIN CONCLUSIONS: These findings support that the high intra-host HIV-1 diversity of some EC resulted from long-term persistence of archival proviruses combined with the continuous reservoir's reseeding and low, but measurable, viral evolution despite undetectable viremia.

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