The major barrier to cure HIV infection is the early generation and extended survival of HIV reservoirs in the circulation and tissues. Currently, the techniques used to detect and quantify HIV reservoirs are mostly based on blood-based assays; however, it has become evident that viral reservoirs remain in tissues. Our study describes a novel multi-component imaging method (HIV DNA, mRNA, and viral proteins in the same assay) to identify, quantify, and characterize viral reservoirs in tissues and blood products obtained from HIV-infected individuals even when systemic replication is undetectable. In the human brains of HIV-infected individuals under ART, we identified that microglia/macrophages and a small population of astrocytes are the main cells with integrated HIV DNA. Only half of the cells with integrated HIV DNA expressed viral mRNA, and one-third expressed viral proteins. Surprisingly, we identified residual HIV-p24, gp120, nef, vpr, and tat protein expression and accumulation in uninfected cells around HIV-infected cells suggesting local synthesis, secretion, and bystander uptake. In conclusion, our data show that ART reduces the size of the brain’s HIV reservoirs; however, local/chronic viral protein secretion still occurs, indicating that the brain is still a major anatomical target to cure HIV infection.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology