Elite controllers or suppressors (ES) are a group of HIV-1-infected individuals who maintain viral loads below the limit of detection of commercial assays for many years. The mechanisms responsible for this remarkable control are under se study, with the hope of developing therapeutic vaccines effective against HIV-1. In this study, we addressed the question of the intrinsic susceptibility of ES CD4+ T cells to infecion.While we and others have previously shown that CD4+ T cells from ES can be infected by HIV-1 isolates in vitro, these studies were confounded by exogenous activation and in vitro culture of CD4+ T cells prior to infection. In order to avoid the changes in chemokine receptor expression that have been associated with such exogenous activation, we infected purified CD4+ T cells directly after isolation from the peripheral blood of ES, viremic patients, and uninfected donors. We utilized a green fluorescent protein (GFP)-expressing proviral construct pseudotyped with CCR5-tropic or CXCR4-tropic envelope to compare viral entry using a fluorescence resonance energy transfer-based, single-round virus-cell fusion assay. The frequency of productive infection was also compared by assessing GFP expression. CD4+ T cells from ES were as susceptible as or more susceptible than cells from viremic patients and uninfected donors to HIV-1 entry and productive infection. The results of this physiological study strongly suggest that differences in HIV-1 entry and infection of CD4+ T cells alone cannot explain the elite control of viral replication.
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