A Dual Infection/Competition Assay Shows a Correlation between Ex Vivo Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Fitness and Disease Progression
This study was designed to examine the impact of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) fitness on disease progression through the use of a dual competition/heteroduplex tracking assay (HTA). Despite numerous studies on the impact of HIV-1 diversity and HIV-specific immune response on disease progression, we still do not have a firm understanding of the long-term pathogenesis of this virus. Strong and early CD8-positive cytotoxic T-cell and CD4-positive T-helper cell responses directed toward HIV-infected cells appear to curb HIV pathogenesis. However, the rate at which the virus infects the CD4+ T-cell population and possibly destroys the HIV-specific immune response may also alter the rate of disease progression. For HIV-1 fitness studies, we established conditions for dual HIV-1 infections of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and a sensitive HTA to measure relative virus production. A pairwise comparison was then performed to estimate the relative fitness of various non-syncytium-inducing/CCR5-tropic (NSI/R5) and syncytium-inducing/CXCR4-tropic (SI/X4) HIV-1 isolates. Four HIV-1 strains (two NSI/R5 and two SI/X4) with moderate ex vivo fitness were then selected as controls and competed against primary HIV-1 isolates from an HIV-infected Belgian cohort. HIV-1 isolates from long-term survivors (LTS) were outcompeted by control strains and were significantly less fit than HIV-1 isolates from patients with accelerated progression to AIDS (PRO). In addition, NSI/R5 HIV-1 isolates from PRO overgrew control SI/X4 strains, suggesting that not all SI/X4 HIV-1 isolates replicate more efficiently than all NSI/R5 isolates. Finally, there were strong, independent correlations between viral load and the total relative fitness values of HIV-1 isolates from PRO (r = 0.84, P = 0.033) and LTS (r = 0.86, P = 0.028). Separation of the PRO and LTS plots suggest that HIV-1 fitness together with viral load may be a strong predictor for the rate of disease progression.