Highlights － A total of 1.7% of noninduced HIV-1 proviruses have intact genomes and LTR function － Reconstructed intact noninduced proviruses are replication competent － They are integrated into transcription units and have no CpG methylation in the LTR － The size of the latent reservoir for HIV-1 may be underestimated by ∼60-fold
Antiretroviral therapy fails to cure HIV-1 infection because latent proviruses persist in resting CD4+ T cells. T cell activation reverses latency, but <1% of proviruses are induced to release infectious virus after maximum in vitro activation. The noninduced proviruses are generally considered defective but have not been characterized. Analysis of 213 noninduced proviral clones from treated patients showed 88.3% with identifiable defects but 11.7% with intact genomes and normal long terminal repeat (LTR) function. Using direct sequencing and genome synthesis, we reconstructed full-length intact noninduced proviral clones and demonstrated growth kinetics comparable to reconstructed induced proviruses from the same patients. Noninduced proviruses have unmethylated promoters and are integrated into active transcription units. Thus, it cannot be excluded that they may become activated in vivo. The identification of replication-competent noninduced proviruses indicates that the size of the latent reservoir—and, hence, the barrier to cure—may be up to 60-fold greater than previously estimated.