Variation in HIV-1 set-point viral load: epidemiological analysis and an evolutionary hypothesis.

Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, London W2 1PG, United Kingdom.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.81). 11/2007; 104(44):17441-6. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0708559104
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The natural course of HIV-1 infection is characterized by a high degree of heterogeneity in viral load, not just within patients over time, but also between patients, especially during the asymptomatic stage of infection. Asymptomatic, or set-point, viral load has been shown to correlate with both decreased time to AIDS and increased infectiousness. The aim of this study is to characterize the epidemiological impact of heterogeneity in set-point viral load. By analyzing two cohorts of untreated patients, we quantify the relationships between both viral load and infectiousness and the duration of the asymptomatic infectious period. We find that, because both the duration of infection and infectiousness determine the opportunities for the virus to be transmitted, this suggests a trade-off between these contributions to the overall transmission potential. Some public health implications of variation in set-point viral load are discussed. We observe that set-point viral loads are clustered around those that maximize the transmission potential, and this leads us to hypothesize that HIV-1 could have evolved to optimize its transmissibility, a form of adaptation to the human host population. We discuss how this evolutionary hypothesis can be tested, review the evidence available to date, and highlight directions for future research.

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    ABSTRACT: HIV latency is the chief obstacle to eradicating HIV but is widely believed to be an evolutionary accident providing no lentiviral fitness advantage. However, findings of latency being "hardwired" into HIV's gene-regulatory circuitry appear inconsistent with latency being an evolutionary accident, given HIV's rapid mutation rate. Here, we propose that latency is an evolutionary "bet-hedging" strategy whose frequency has been optimized to maximize lentiviral transmission by reducing viral extinction during mucosal infections. The model quantitatively fits the available patient data, matches observations of high-frequency latency establishment in cell culture and primates, and generates two counterintuitive but testable predictions. The first prediction is that conventional CD8-depletion experiments in SIV-infected macaques increase latent cells more than viremia. The second prediction is that strains engineered to have higher replicative fitness-via reduced latency-will exhibit lower infectivity in animal-model mucosal inoculations. Therapeutically, the theory predicts treatment approaches that may substantially enhance "activate-and-kill" HIV-cure strategies. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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