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Assessing suitability of next-generation viral outgrowth assays as proxies for classic QVOA to measure HIV-1 latent reservoir size

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Evaluations of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) curative interventions require reliable and efficient quantification of replication-competent latent reservoirs. The "classic" quantitative viral outgrowth assay (QVOA) has been regarded as the reference standard, although prohibitively resource and labor intensive. We compared 6 "next-generation" viral outgrowth assays, using polymerase chain reaction or ultrasensitive p24 to assess their suitability as scalable proxies for QVOA.


Next-generation QVOAs were compared with classic QVOA using single leukapheresis-derived samples from 5 antiretroviral therapy-suppressed HIV-infected participants and 1 HIV-uninfected control; each laboratory tested blinded batches of 3 frozen and 1 fresh sample. Markov chain Monte Carlo methods estimated extra-Poisson variation at aliquot, batch, and laboratory levels. Models also estimated the effect of testing frozen versus fresh samples.


Next-generation QVOAs had similar estimates of variation to QVOA. Assays with ultrasensitive readout reported higher infectious units per million values than classic QVOA. Within-batch testing had 2.5-fold extra-Poisson variation (95% credible interval [CI], 2.1-3.5-fold) for next-generation assays. Between-laboratory variation increased extra-Poisson variation to 3.4-fold (95% CI, 2.6-5.4-fold). Frozen storage did not substantially alter infectious units per million values (-18%; 95% CI, -52% to 39%).


The data offer cautious support for use of next-generation QVOAs as proxies for more laborious QVOA, while providing greater sensitivities and dynamic ranges. Measurement of latent reservoirs in eradication strategies would benefit from high throughput and scalable assays.

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