HIV-1 DNA in blood monocytes is considered a viral source of various HIV-1 infected tissue macrophages, which is also known as “Trojan horse” hypothesis. However, whether these DNA can produce virions has been an open question for years, due to the inability of isolating high titer and infectious HIV-1 directly from monocytes.
In this study, we demonstrated successful isolation of two strains of M-HIV-1 (1690 M and 1175 M) from two out of four study subjects, together with their in vivo controls, HIV-1 isolated from CD4+ T-cells (T-HIV-1), 1690 T and 1175 T. All M- and T- HIV-1 isolates were detected CCR5-tropic. Both M- HIV-1 exhibited higher levels of replication in monocyte-derived macrophages (MDM) than the two T- HIV-1. Consistent with our previous reports on the subject 1175 with late infection, compartmentalized env C2-V3-C3 sequences were identified between 1175 M and 1175 T. In contrast, 1690 M and 1690 T, which were isolated from subject 1690 with relatively earlier infection, showed homogenous env C2-V3-C3 sequences. However, multiple reverse transcriptase (RT) inhibitor resistance-associated variations were detected in the Gag-Pol region of 1690 M, but not of 1690 T. By further measuring HIV DNA intracellular copy numbers post-MDM infection, 1690 M was found to have significantly higher DNA synthesis efficiency than 1690 T in macrophages, indicating a higher RT activity, which was confirmed by AZT inhibitory assays.
These results suggested that the M- and T- HIV-1 are compartmentalized in the two study subjects, respectively. Therefore, we demonstrated that under in vitro conditions, HIV-1 infected human monocytes can productively release live viruses while differentiating into macrophages.