HIV-1 remains incurable due to the persistence of proviral DNA integrated into host cells, providing a reservoir for viral rebound upon cessation of antiretroviral therapy (ART). There is evidence for sex-based differences in HIV-1 immune responses and pathogenesis, but little is known about differences in HIV-1 persistence. To address this knowledge gap, we quantified persistent HIV-1 in 90 adults on suppressive ART in Rakai, Uganda (57 females). Total HIV-1 DNA was quantified by PCR and replication competent provirus by the quantitative viral outgrowth assay (QVOA). Immune phenotyping of T cell subsets and plasma biomarkers was also performed. We found that while both sexes had similar levels of total HIV DNA, females had significantly fewer cells harboring replication-competent virus, as measured by viral outgrowth in the QVOA. Predictors of viral outgrowth differed by sex; notably, frequency of PD-1+ CD4 T cells correlated with reservoir size in males, but not females. The sex-based differences in HIV-1 persistence observed in this cohort warrant additional research, especially given the widespread use of the QVOA to assess reservoir size and current explorations of PD-1 agonists in cure protocols. Efforts should be made to power future cure studies to assess outcomes in both males and females.
Jessica L. Prodger, Adam A. Capoferri, Katherine Yu, Jun Lai, Steven J. Reynolds, Jingo Kasule, Taddeo Kityamuweesi, Paul Buule, David Serwadda, Kyungyoon J. Kwon, Katherine Schlusser, Craig Martens, Eileen P. Scully, Yun-Hee Choi, Andrew D. Redd, Thomas C. Quinn