HIV post-treatment controllers have distinct immunological and virological features

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Article, Peer-reviewed

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HIV post-treatment controllers (PTCs) are rare individuals who maintain low levels of viremia after stopping antiretroviral therapy (ART). Understanding the mechanisms of HIV post-treatment control will inform development of strategies aiming at achieving HIV functional cure. In this study, we evaluated 22 PTCs from 8 AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) analytical treatment interruption (ATI) studies who maintained viral loads ≤400 copies/mL for ≥24 wk. There were no significant differences in demographics or frequency of protective and susceptible human leukocyte antigen (HLA) alleles between PTCs and post-treatment noncontrollers (NCs, n = 37). Unlike NCs, PTCs demonstrated a stable HIV reservoir measured by cell-associated RNA (CA-RNA) and intact proviral DNA assay (IPDA) during analytical treatment interruption (ATI). Immunologically, PTCs demonstrated significantly lower CD4+ and CD8+ T cell activation, lower CD4+ T cell exhaustion, and more robust Gag-specific CD4+ T cell responses and natural killer (NK) cell responses. Sparse partial least squares discriminant analysis (sPLS-DA) identified a set of features enriched in PTCs, including a higher CD4+ T cell% and CD4+/CD8+ ratio, more functional NK cells, and a lower CD4+ T cell exhaustion level. These results provide insights into the key viral reservoir features and immunological profiles for HIV PTCs and have implications for future studies evaluating interventions to achieve an HIV functional cure.

Keywords: HIV; T cell; analytical treatment interruption; post-treatment controller; reservoir.