Transient HIV infections have been invoked to account for the cellular immune responses detected in highly virus-exposed individuals who have remained HIV seronegative. We tested for very low levels of HIV RNA in 524 seronegative plasma samples from 311 highly exposed women and men from 3 longitudinal HIV cohorts.
2073 transcription mediated amplification (TMA) HIV RNA tests were performed for an average of 3.95 TMA assays per plasma sample. Quadruplicate TMA assays, analyzing a total of 2 ml of plasma, provided an estimated sensitivity of 3.5 HIV RNA copies/ml.
Four samples from subjects who did not sero-convert within the following six months were positive for HIV RNA. For one sample, human polymorphism DNA analysis indicated a sample mix up. Borderline HIV RNA detection signals were detected for the other three positive samples and further replicate TMA testing yielded no positive results. Nested PCR assays (n=254) for HIV proviral DNA on PBMC from these 3 subjects were negative.
Transient viremia was not reproducibly detected in highly HIV exposed seronegative men and women. If transient infections do occur, plasma HIV RNA levels may remain below the detection limits of the sensitive assay used here, be of very short duration, or viral replication may be restricted to mucosal surfaces or their draining lymphoid tissues.