Background: In approximately 10% of newly diagnosed individuals in Europe, HIV-1 variants harboring transmitted drug resistance mutations (TDRM) are detected. For some TDRM it has been shown that they revert to wild type while other mutations persist in the absence of therapy. To understand the mechanisms explaining persistence we investigated the in vivo evolution of frequently transmitted HIV-1 variants and their impact on in vitro replicative capacity. Results: We selected 31 individuals infected with HIV-1 harboring frequently observed TDRM such as M41L or K103N in reverse transcriptase (RT) or M46L in protease. In all these samples, polymorphisms at non-TDRM positions were present at baseline (median protease: 5, RT: 6). Extensive analysis of viral evolution of protease and RT demonstrated that the majority of TDRM (51/55) persisted for at least a year and even up to eight years in the plasma. During follow-up only limited selection of additional polymorphisms was observed (median: 1). Conclusions: We demonstrate limited in vivo evolution of protease and RT harbouring frequently observed TDRM in the plasma. This is in line with the high in vitro replication capacity of patient-derived viruses harbouring TDRM compared to site-directed mutant viruses harbouring TDRM. As site-directed mutant viruses have a lower replication capacity than the patient-derived viruses with similar mutational patterns, we propose that (baseline) polymorphisms function as compensatory mutations improving viral replication capacity.

Compensatory fixation, Drug resistance, Evolution, HIV, Persistence, Reversion, Transmission,
This work was funded by the European Commission 7th Framework Programme; grant id fp7/223131 - Collaborative HIV and Anti-HIV Drug Resistance Network (CHAIN)
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Pingen, M, Wensing, A.M.J, Fransen, K, de Bel, A.V, de Jong, D, Hoepelman, I.M, … Boucher, C.A.B. (2014). Persistence of frequently transmitted drug-resistant HIV-1 variants can be explained by high viral replication capacity. Retrovirology. doi:10.1186/s12977-014-0105-9