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N Engl J Med. 1995 Jan 26;332(4):201-8.

Virologic and immunologic characterization of long-term survivors of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection.

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Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, New York University School of Medicine, NY 10016.



In most subjects infected with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), clinical or laboratory evidence of immunodeficiency develops within 10 years of seroconversion, but a few infected people remain healthy and immunologically normal for more than a decade. Studies of these subjects, termed long-term survivors, may yield important clues for the development of prophylactic and therapeutic interventions against the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.


We studied 10 seropositive subjects who remained asymptomatic with normal and stable CD4+ lymphocyte counts despite 12 to 15 years of HIV-1 infection. Plasma cultures were uniformly negative for infectious virus. However, particle-associated HIV-1 RNA was detected in four subjects with a sensitive branched-DNA signal-amplification assay, whereas in five others the levels of HIV-1 RNA were too low to detect. Infectious HIV-1 was detected in peripheral-blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of three subjects by standard limiting-dilution cultures, and infectious virus was recovered from another subject with use of a CD8-depleted culture. The other six subjects had no detectable infectious virus in their PBMC. A quantitative polymerase-chain-reaction assay revealed that all subjects had detectable but low titers of viral DNA in PBMC. Overall, the viral burden in the plasma and PBMC of long-term survivors was orders of magnitude lower than that typically found in subjects with progressive disease. There was no in vitro evidence of resistance by host CD4+ lymphocytes to HIV-1 infection. However, long-term survivors had a vigorous, virus-inhibitory CD8+ lymphocyte response and a strong neutralizing-antibody response. In two subjects the kinetics of viral replication were consistent with the presence of a substantially attenuated strain of HIV-1.


Subjects who remain asymptomatic for many years despite HIV-1 infection have low levels of HIV-1 and a combination of strong virus-specific immune responses with some degree of attenuation of the virus.

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