Episomal HIV-1 DNA and its relationship to other markers of HIV-1 persistence

Javier Martinez-Picado, Ryan Zurakowski, María José Buzón, Mario Stevenson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Reverse transcription of HIV-1 results in the generation of a linear cDNA that serves as the precursor to the integrated provirus. Other classes of extrachromosomal viral cDNA molecules can be found in acutely infected cells including the 1-LTR and 2-LTR circles of viral DNA, also referred as episomal HIV-1 DNA. Circulating CD4+ T-cells of treatment-naïve individuals contain significant levels of unintegrated forms of HIV-1 DNA. However, the importance of episomal HIV-1 DNA in the study of viral persistence during antiviral therapy (ART) is debatable. 2-LTR circles are preferentially observed in the effector memory CD4+ T cell subset of long-term treated subjects. Treatment intensification of standard regimens has been used to determine if more potent ART can impact viral reservoir activity. Adding a potent antiretroviral drug to a stable triple-drug regimen has no measurable impact on plasma HIV-1 RNA levels, suggesting that ongoing cycles of HIV-1 replication are not a major mechanism driving persistent plasma viremia during triple-drug ART. However, in randomized clinical trials of HIV-1-infected adults on apparently effective ART, the addition of an integrase inhibitor (raltegravir) to stable regimens resulted in a transient increase in 2-LTR circles in some patients, suggesting a pre-intensification steady-state in which the processes of virion generation and de novo infection were occurring. Mathematical modeling of 2-LTR production during integrase inhibitor intensification suggests the coexistence, at different levels, of ongoing de novo infection and de novo replication mechanisms, specifically in inflamed lymphoid drug sanctuaries. Most reports looking into potential changes in 2-LTR circles in interventional clinical studies have simultaneously assessed other potential surrogate markers of viral persistence. Transient increases in 2-LTR circles have been correlated to decreases in CD8+ T-cell activation, transient CD45RA-CD4+ T-cell redistribution, and decreases in the hypercoagulation biomarker D-dimer in ART-intensified individuals. It is difficult, however, to establish a systematic association because the level of correlation with different types of markers differs significantly among studies. In conclusion, despite suppressive ART, a steady-state of de novo infection may persist in some infected individuals and that this may drive immune activation and inflammation changes reflecting residual viral reservoir activity during otherwise apparently suppressive ART.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 30 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases


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