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HIV-1 DNA decay dynamics in early treated individuals: practical considerations for clinical trial design.

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Background: Initiation of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) soon after HIV-1 infection limits the establishment of viral reservoirs. Thus, early treated individuals are preferred candidates to evaluate novel viral remission strategies. However, their cART-dependent HIV-1 DNA decay dynamics are still poorly defined. This can hamper the design and interpretation of results from clinical trials intended to further reduce viral reservoirs.

Methods: We characterized the longitudinal decline of total HIV-1 DNA levels by droplet digital PCR in 21 individuals initiating cART within 6 months after estimated HIV-1 acquisition. Measurements were taken at cART initiation, after 6 months and annually until Year 4. Correlations between virological and clinical parameters were statistically analysed. Statistical modelling was performed applying a mixed-effects model.

Results: Total HIV-1 DNA experienced a median overall decrease of 1.43 log10 units (IQR = 1.17-1.69) throughout the 4 years of follow-up. Baseline levels for total HIV-1 DNA, viral load, absolute CD4+ T cell count and CD4+/CD8+ ratio correlate with final HIV-1 DNA measurements (R2 = 0.68, P < 0.001; R2 = 0.54, P = 0.012; R2 = -0.47, P = 0.031; and R2 = -0.59, P = 0.0046, respectively). Statistical modelling shows that after 2 years on cART the viral reservoir had reached a set point.

Conclusion: Total HIV-1 DNA experienced a median overall decrease of 1.43 log10 units (IQR = 1.17-1.69) throughout the 4 years of follow-up. Baseline levels for total HIV-1 DNA, viral load, absolute CD4+ T cell count and CD4+/CD8+ ratio correlate with final HIV-1 DNA measurements (R2 = 0.68, P < 0.001; R2 = 0.54, P = 0.012; R2 = -0.47, P = 0.031; and R2 = -0.59, P = 0.0046, respectively). Statistical modelling shows that after 2 years on cART the viral reservoir had reached a set point.

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