Publications & Posters

VIP-SPOT: an Innovative Assay To Quantify the Productive HIV-1 Reservoir in the Monitoring of Cure Strategies

mBio | June 22, 2021

Puertas MC, Bayón-Gil Á, Garcia-Guerrero MC, Salgado M, Urrea V, Morón-López S, Peña R, Jiménez-Moyano E, Clotet B, Prado JG and Martinez-Picado J

mBio. 2021:e0056021



Improved assays are critical to the successful implementation of novel HIV-1 cure strategies, given the limited ability of currently available assays to quantify true effects on the viral reservoir. As interventions based on immune clearance target infected cells producing viral antigens, irrespective of whether the viruses generated are infectious or not, we developed a novel assay to identify viral protein production at the single-cell level. The novel viral protein spot (VIP-SPOT) assay, based on the enzyme-linked ImmunoSpot (ELISpot) approach, quantifies the frequency of CD4+ T cells that produce HIV antigen upon stimulation. The performance of the VIP-SPOT assay was validated in samples from viremic (n = 18) and antiretroviral therapy (ART)-treated subjects (n = 35), and the results were compared with total and intact proviral DNA and plasma viremia. The size of the functional reservoir, measured by VIP-SPOT, correlates with total HIV-1 DNA and, more strongly, with intact proviruses. However, the frequency of HIV antigen-producing cells is 100-fold lower than that of intact proviruses, thus suggesting that most latently infected cells harboring full-length proviruses are not prone to reactivation. Furthermore, VIP-SPOT was useful for evaluating the efficacy of latency reversing agents (LRAs) in primary cells. VIP-SPOT is a novel tool for measuring the size of the functional HIV-1 reservoir in a rapid, sensitive, and precise manner. It might benefit the evaluation of cure strategies based on immune clearance, as these will specifically target this minor fraction of the viral reservoir, and might assist in the identification of novel therapeutic candidates that modulate viral latency.IMPORTANCE Current efforts aimed at finding a definitive cure for HIV-1 infection are hampered mainly by the persistence of a viral reservoir in latently infected cells. While complete viral eradication from the body remains elusive, finding a functional cure to enable control of viremia without the need for continuous treatment is a key goal. As the lower reservoir size increases the likelihood of controlling viremia, new therapeutic strategies aim to reduce the size of this viral reservoir. Evaluating the efficacy of these strategies requires a robust assay to measure the viral reservoir. Currently available options are subject to overestimation or underestimation of the productive reservoir. In order to overcome this limitation, we have developed a novel assay, viral protein spot (VIP-SPOT), to precisely quantify the frequency of infected cells that retain the ability to reactivate and produce viral proteins.