AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses vol:14 issue:5 pages:453-459
The level of HIV-1 RNA in plasma has become one of the most important markers in the follow-up of HIV-infected patients. Three techniques are commercially available: both the Amplicor HIV Monitor and the NASBA HIV-1 RNA QT are target amplification methods, whereas the Quantiplex HIV RNA assay is a branched DNA signal amplification technique. Detection in both target amplification techniques is based on a single primer pair and a single probe in the gag region, whereas multiple probes capture the pol region of the viral RNA in the branched DNA assay. We investigated the discrepant observation of an undetectable viral load in an immunodeficient pregnant HIV-1-infected patient of African origin with no prior antiretroviral treatment. Although clinical progression was present in this patient with tuberculosis and a low CD4 cell count, viral load determinations with both the Amplicor Monitor and NASBA assays revealed no detectable RNA levels. The presence of HIV-1 RNA in the plasma of the patient was demonstrated by an in-house RNA-PCR. Subsequent HIV-1 RNA quantification with the branched DNA method revealed a high viremia (460,000 copies/ml). DNA sequence analysis of the gag gene identified a subtype G HIV-1 strain (HIV-1BL). To our knowledge this is the first report of a patient harboring an HIV-1 genotype of the main group with a high viral load as quantified by the branched DNA assay, but undetectable with the two commercial HIV RNA amplification techniques because of genetic divergence. In the case of discrepant low viral loads determined by one amplification technique in patients with advanced clinical stage one should use an alternative quantification technique for confirmation.