Drug resistance remains a major problem for the treatment of HIV. Resistance can occur due to mutations that were present before treatment starts or due to mutations that occur during treatment. The relative importance of these two sources is unknown. Resistance can also be transmitted between patients, but this process is not considered in the current study. We study three different situations in which HIV drug resistance may evolve: starting triple-drug therapy, treatment with a single dose of nevirapine and interruption of treatment. For each of these three cases good data are available from literature, which allows us to estimate the probability that resistance evolves from standing genetic variation. Depending on the treatment we find probabilities of the evolution of drug resistance due to standing genetic variation between and . For patients who start triple-drug combination therapy, we find that drug resistance evolves from standing genetic variation in approximately 6% of the patients. We use a population-dynamic and population-genetic model to understand the observations and to estimate important evolutionary parameters under the assumption that treatment failure is caused by the fixation of a single drug resistance mutation. We find that both the effective population size of the virus before treatment, and the fitness of the resistant mutant during treatment, are key-parameters which determine the probability that resistance evolves from standing genetic variation. Importantly, clinical data indicate that both of these parameters can be manipulated by the kind of treatment that is used.
For HIV patients who are treated with antiretroviral drugs, treatment usually works well. However, the virus can, and sometimes does, become resistant against one or more drugs. HIV drug resistance results from the acquisition of specific and well known mutations. It is currently unknown whether drug resistance mutations usually stem from standing genetic variation, i.e., they were already present at low frequency before treatment started, or whether they tend to occur during treatment. In the current manuscript, I make use of several large datasets and evolutionary modeling to estimate the probability that drug resistance mutations are present before treatment starts and lead to viral failure. I find that for the most common type of treatment with a combination of three drugs, drug resistance evolves from pre-existing mutations in 6% of the patients. With other types of treatment, this probability varies from 0 to 39%. I conclude that there is room for improvement in preventing the evolution of drug resistance from pre-existing mutations.