Antigen-driven clonal selection shapes the persistence of HIV-1-infected CD4+ T cells in vivo

Simonetti FR, Zhang H, Soroosh GP, Duan J, Rhodehouse K, Hill AL, Beg SA, McCormick K, Raymond HE, Nobles CL, Everett JK, Kwon KJ, White JA, Lai J, Margolick JB, Hoh R, Deeks SG, Bushman FD, Siliciano JD, Siliciano RF


Clonal expansion of infected CD4+ T cells is a major mechanism of HIV-1 persistence and a barrier to achieving a cure. Potential causes are homeostatic proliferation, effects of HIV-1 integration, and interaction with antigens. Here, we show that it is possible to link antigen responsiveness, the full proviral sequence, the integration site, and the T cell receptor β-chain (TCRβ) sequence to examine the role of recurrent antigenic exposure in maintaining the HIV-1 reservoir. We isolated CMV- and Gag-responding CD4+ T cells from 10 treated individuals. Proviral populations in CMV-responding cells were dominated by large clones, including clones harboring replication-competent proviruses. TCRβ repertoires showed high clonality driven by converging adaptive responses. Although some proviruses were in genes linked to HIV-1 persistence (BACH2, STAT5B, MKL1), the proliferation of infected cells under antigenic stimulation occurred regardless of the site of integration. Paired TCRβ and integration site analysis showed that infection could occur early or late in the course of a clone's response to antigen and could generate infected cell populations too large to be explained solely by homeostatic proliferation. Together, these findings implicate antigen-driven clonal selection as a major factor in HIV-1 persistence, a finding that will be a difficult challenge to eradication efforts.

Keywords: AIDS/HIV; Adaptive immunity; Clonal selection; Immunology; T cells.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of interest: Aspects of the intact proviral DNA assay (IPDA) are the subject of a patent application (“Compositions and methods Related to characterizing proviral reservoirs,” PCT/US16/28822) filed by Johns Hopkins University, and RFS is one of the inventors on this application. RFS is a consultant on cure-related HIV research for Merck and AbbVie.