BACKGROUND. HIV-1-infected CD4+ T cells contribute to latent reservoir persistence by proliferating while avoiding immune recognition. Integration features of intact proviruses in elite controllers (EC) and people on long-term therapy suggests that proviruses in specific chromosomal locations can evade immune surveillance. However, direct evidence of this mechanism is missing. METHODS. In this case report, we characterized integration sites and full genome sequences of expanded T cell clones in an EC before and after chemoradiation. We identified the cognate peptide of infected clones to investigate cell proliferation and virus production induced by T cell activation, and susceptibility to autologous CD8+ T cells. RESULTS. The proviral landscape was dominated by two large clones with replication-competent proviruses integrated into Zinc Finger genes (ZNF470 and ZNF721) in locations previously associated with deeper latency. A third nearly intact provirus, with a stop codon in Pol, was integrated into an intergenic site. Upon stimulation with cognate Gag peptides, infected clones proliferated extensively and produced virus, but the provirus in ZNF721 was 200-folds less inducible. While autologous CD8+ T cells decreased the proliferation of cells carrying the intergenic provirus, they had no effect on cells with the provirus in the ZNF721 gene. CONCLUSION. We provide direct evidence that upon activation of infected clones by cognate antigen, the lower inducibility of intact proviruses in ZNF genes can result in immune evasion and persistence. FUNDING. Office of the NIH Director and National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research; NIAID, NIH; Johns Hopkins University Center for AIDS Research.
Filippo Dragoni, Abena Kwaa, Caroline C.G. Traut, Rebecca T. Veenhuis, Bezawit A. Woldemeskel, Angelica Camilo-Contreras, Hayley E. Raymond, Arbor G. Dykema, Eileen P. Scully, Amanda M. Rosecrans, Kellie N. Smith, Frederic D. Bushman, Francesco R. Simonetti, Joel N. Blankson