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Increased Viral Burden And Cytopathicity Correlate Temporally With CD4+ T-lymphocyte Decline And Clinical Progression In Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1-infected Individuals

R I Connor, H Mohri, Y Cao, D D Ho

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The rate of clinical progression is variable among individuals infected with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). Changes in viral burden which correlate with disease status have been demonstrated in cross-sectional studies; however, a detailed longitudinal study of the temporal relationship between viral burden, CD4+ T-cell numbers, and clinical status throughout the course of infection has not been reported. Multiple longitudinal blood samples were obtained from four HIV-1-infected individuals with clinically divergent profiles. Levels of HIV-1 were measured in sequential samples of peripheral blood mononuclear cells, using both end-point dilution cultures and quantitative polymerase chain reaction methods. Serial HIV-1 isolates from each case were also evaluated to determine their biological properties in vitro. For the three patients with clinical progression, a dramatic increase in the level of HIV-1 was observed concurrent with or prior to a marked drop in CD4+ T lymphocytes. This increase in viral burden was temporally associated with the emergence of a more cytopathic viral phenotype. In contrast, consistently low levels of HIV-1 were observed in the one patient who was clinically and immunologically stable for more than a decade. Moreover, viral isolates from this patient were less cytopathic in vitro compared with HIV-1 isolates from those patients with disease progression. The temporal association between increased viral burden and CD4+ T-cell decline suggests a direct role for HIV-1 in the cytopathology of CD4+ T cells in vivo. Our results indicate that the pathogenic mechanisms responsible for CD4+ T-cell depletion may be related to both quantitative and qualitative changes in HIV-1.