To better understand the basis for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) persistence and latency, the form in which viral DNA exists in the peripheral T lymphocyte reservoir of infected individuals was investigated. In asymptomatic individuals, HIV-1 was harbored predominantly as full-length, unintegrated complementary DNA. These extrachromosomal DNA forms retained the ability to integrate upon T cell activation in vitro. In patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), there was an increase in integrated relative to extrachromosomal DNA forms. By analysis of DNA from patient lymphocyte subpopulations depleted of human lymphocyte antigen-Dr receptor-positive cells, quiescent T cells were identified as the source of extrachromosomal HIV-1 DNA. Thus quiescent T lymphocytes may be a major and inducible HIV-1 reservoir in infected individuals.
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