, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 151-158

The clinical implications of reduced viral fitness

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Abstract

Viral fitness, defined as the extent of viral adaptation to the host environment, arises from tissue tropism, immune system evasion, drug resistance, and viral replication capacity. The fitness of wild-type and drug-resistant HIV-1 varies widely, associating with plasma viremia, CD4+ T-cell count, and clinical progression. HIV-1 fitness may be measured in competitive culture assays, single cycle assays, or single cycle assays based on a subgenomic fragment of HIV-1, which has been standardized as the replication capacity assay (pol RC). During virologic failure of antiretroviral therapy, CD4 T-cell counts remain elevated while pol RC declines and remains durably lower because of drug-selected changes in the gag and pol genes. CD4 T-cell sparing also is observed among patients without evidence of drug resistance who carry a low pol RC virus. Reduced HIV-1 replication capacity and virulence may occur because of drug resistance or viral escape from host immune responses.