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Biological Variation And Quality Control Of Plasma Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 RNA Quantitation By Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction

M A Winters, L B Tan, D A Katzenstein, T C Merigan

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Quantitation of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) RNA in the plasma of seropositive individuals was performed by using an external control assay with techniques to standardize and control each measurement. Rigorous study of the variability of the assay showed that the median intraassay reproducibility was log10 0.15 RNA copies per ml of plasma, while the median interassay reproducibility on replicate plasma samples was log10 0.25 copies perml. Specimen stability studies showed reproducible recovery of RNA from plasma stored at -70 degrees C for up to 12 months. In clinically stable patients who were either untreated or taking zidovudine, the average week-to-week variation in plasma RNA levels, measured in real time, was log10 0.30 RNA copies per ml. In contrast, patients either initiating or changing antiretroviral therapy showed a fall of log10 0.8 to log10 2.0 copies per ml in plasma RNA levels. Overall, 105 of 110 (96%) HIV-1-seropositive individuals with CD4 counts of 36 to 868 cells per mm3 had quantifiable HIV-1 RNA over a range of log10 2.70 to log10 6.23 RNA copies per ml, including 81% (13 of 16) of the individuals with greater than 500 CD4 cells per mm3. Accurate and reproducible quantitation of plasma viremia in real time by reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, particularly in asymptomatic HIV-1-infected individuals with high CD4 counts, provides a basis for the use of this virologic measure to monitor the short- and long-term effects of early intervention therapeutic strategies on viral burden.