Cell-free HIV RNA in plasma was detected and quantitated after antiviral therapy by the polymerase chain reaction. RNA was extracted from plasma, reverse transcribed to cDNA, amplified by polymerase chain reaction, and quantitated by absorbance based on an enzyme-linked affinity assay. 72 HIV antibody-positive subjects had one plasma sample taken. 39 who were not receiving antiretroviral therapy at the time had a mean plasma HIV RNA copy number of 690 +/- 360 (mean +/- SEM) per 200 microliters of plasma, while 33 subjects who had been receiving zidovudine therapy for a minimum of 3 mo had a mean copy number of 134 +/- 219 (P less than 0.05). 27 additional HIV antibody-positive patients had two plasma samples taken before and 1 mo after initiating dideoxynucleoside therapy. Plasma HIV RNA copy number fell from 540 +/- 175 to 77 +/- 35 (P less than 0.05). Finally, nine of these subjects had two baseline samples obtained before initiating therapy and two posttreatment samples 1 and 2 mo after therapy was begun. Mean plasma RNA copy number declined from 794 +/- 274 to less than 40 (below the lower limit of sensitivity) after 1 mo of therapy, with suppression maintained after 2 mo of therapy. These results suggest that gene amplification can be used to detect and quantitate changes in plasma HIV RNA after dideoxynucleoside therapy. Plasma HIV polymerase chain reaction may be a more sensitive marker to monitor antiviral therapy, particularly in asymptomatic patients where measurement of p24 antigen or quantitative plasma cultures are negative.
M Holodniy, D A Katzenstein, D M Israelski, T C Merigan