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N Engl J Med. 1992 May 21;326(21):1385-91.

Detection of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 provirus in mononuclear cells by in situ polymerase chain reaction.

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Infectious Disease Division, Jefferson Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA 19107.



Studies of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection have attempted to quantitate the viral load correlate it with the degree of immune deficiency. In one study, only about 1 in 10,000 peripheral-blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) expressed HIV-1, but in other studies, at least 1 in 100 CD4-positive cells was infected and harbored the HIV-1 provirus.


We developed a new, highly sensitive in situ polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR) method that amplifies selected genetic regions within intact single cells. We used this technique to determine the proportion of PBMC carrying HIV-1 provirus in infected patients in different stages of disease.


None of the PBMC from 11 HIV-1--seronegative patients were found to be positive for HIV-1 provirus by the in situ PCR method. In 56 patients infected with HIV-1, the percentage of PBMC with HIV-1 ranged from 0.1 percent to 13.5 percent. The mean percentage of infected mononuclear cells was greater in 13 patients with persistent generalized adenopathy (mean, 6.6 percent) and 19 with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (Stages IV-A to IV-C) (4.6 percent) than in 19 patients with asymptomatic HIV-1 infection (0.9 percent) (P less than 0.001). However, in five patients with Kaposi's sarcoma (Stage IV-D), an average of only 1.6 percent of mononuclear cells were infected.


In HIV-1 infection, the proportion of PBMC that are infected appears to be at least 10 times higher than previously described. It is likely that most infected cells contain HIV-1 provirus in a latent or defective form that was not detected in some earlier studies.

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