A comparative analysis of unintegrated HIV-1 DNA measurement as a potential biomarker of the cellular reservoir in the blood of patients controlling and non-controlling viral replication

Chiara Orlandi, Benedetta Canovari, Federica Bozzano, Francesco Marras, Zeno Pasquini, Francesco Barchiesi, Andrea De Maria, Mauro Magnani, Anna Casabianca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: The persistence of HIV-1 in reservoir cells is one of the major obstacles to eradicating the virus in infected individuals receiving combination antiretroviral therapy (ART). HIV-1 persists in infected cells as a stable integrated genome and more labile unintegrated DNA (uDNA), which includes linear, 1-LTR and 2-LTR circular DNA. 2-LTR circle DNA, although less abundant, is considered a surrogate marker of recent infection events and is currently used instead of the other unintegrated species as a diagnostic tool. This pilot study aimed to investigate how to best achieve the measurement of uDNA. Methods: A comparative analysis of two qPCR-based methods (U-assay and 2-LTR assay) was performed on the blood of 12 ART-naïve, 14 viremic and 29 aviremic On-ART patients and 20 untreated spontaneous controllers (HIC), sampled at a single time point. Results: The U-assay, which quantified all unintegrated DNA species, showed greater sensitivity than the 2-LTR assay (up to 75%, p < 0.0001), especially in viremic subjects, in whom other forms, in addition to 2-LTR circles, may also accumulate due to active viral replication. Indeed, in aviremic On-ART samples, the U-assay unexpectedly measured uDNA in a higher proportion of samples (76%, 22/29) than the 2-LTR assay (41%, 12/29), (p = 0.0164). A trend towards lower uDNA levels was observed in aviremic vs viremic On-ART patients, reaching significance when we combined aviremic On-ART and HIC (controllers) vs Off-ART and viremic On-ART subjects (non-controllers) (p = 0.0003), whereas 2-LTR circle levels remained constant (p ≥ 0.2174). These data were supported by the high correlation found between uDNA and total DNA (r = 0.69, p < 0.001). Conclusions: The great advantage of the U-assay is that, unlike the 2-LTR assay, it allows the accurate evaluation of the totality of uDNA that can still be measured even during successful ART when plasma viremia is below the cut-off of common clinical tests (< 50 copies/mL) and 2-LTR circles are more likely to be under the quantification limit. UDNA measurement in blood cells may be used as a biomarker to reveal a so far hidden or underestimated viral reservoir. The potential clinical relevance of uDNA quantification may lead to improvements in diagnostic methods to support clinical strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number204
JournalJournal of Translational Medicine
Volume18
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 19 2020

Keywords

  • 2-LTR circles
  • Aviremic patients
  • Blood cells
  • HIC
  • HIV-1
  • qPCR
  • Reservoir
  • Total HIV DNA
  • Unintegrated HIV DNA
  • Viremic patients

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

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