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Curr Opin Infect Dis. 2003 Feb;16(1):11-8.

Practical applications of viral fitness in clinical practice.

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Division of Clinical Research, ViroLogic, Inc., San Francisco, CA 94080, USA.



To review recent clinical data regarding viral fitness and its potential utility in clinical practice. Therapeutic failure of antiretroviral regimens is often due to the development of drug resistance. The viral loads achieved by these drug-resistant variants frequently remain suppressed below pretreatment levels. Furthermore, many patients with virologic failure continue to maintain stable CD4 counts and remain clinically well. One possible explanation for these observations is that the resistant virus that emerges during failure of highly active antiretroviral therapy is less fit than its wild-type counterpart as a result of the requirement to maintain resistance mutations that allow it to replicate in the presence of antiretroviral drugs. Since there are many patients with limited treatment options due to extensive resistance or drug toxicities, or both, there is intense interest in exploring the possibility that viral fitness can be exploited for clinical benefit. This review describes the assays that are used to measure fitness and replication capacity, and investigations of their utility in clinical practice.


A number of methods have been developed to measure viral fitness. Replication kinetic and competitive culture assays are accurate, but labour and time intensive. The availability of a rapid, single-cycle recombinant assay that measures viral replication capacity presents the possibility that assessments of viral fitness could be incorporated into clinical management. The replication capacity assay appears to correlate with more standard measures of viral fitness, and recently accumulated data in both wild-type and drug resistant viral populations suggest that replication capacity describes an intrinsic characteristic of HIV-1. A number of investigations of the clinical utility of fitness and replication capacity assays have established correlations between these measurements and virologic and immunologic outcomes.


Much progress has been made in the past year in our understanding of viral fitness and replication capacity. Assays that measure these viral characteristics have the potential to expand the range of clinical strategies employed against HIV-1. Further investigations are needed to firmly establish the clinical utility of these assays.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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