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The HIV-1 proviral landscape reveals Nef contributes to HIV-1 persistence in effector memory CD4+ T-cells

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Despite long-term antiretroviral therapy (ART), HIV-1 persists within a reservoir of CD4+ T cells that contribute to viral rebound if treatment is interrupted. Identifying the cellular populations that contribute to the HIV-1 reservoir and understanding the mechanisms of viral persistence are necessary to achieve an effective cure. In this regard, through Full-Length Individual Proviral Sequencing, we observed that the HIV-1 proviral landscape was different and changed with time on ART across naive and memory CD4+ T cell subsets isolated from 24 participants. We found that the proportion of genetically intact HIV-1 proviruses was higher and persisted over time in effector memory CD4+ T cells when compared with naive, central, and transitional memory CD4+ T cells. Interestingly, we found that escape mutations remained stable over time within effector memory T cells during therapy. Finally, we provided evidence that Nef plays a role in the persistence of genetically intact HIV-1. These findings posit effector memory T cells as a key component of the HIV-1 reservoir and suggest Nef as an attractive therapeutic target.

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