We evaluated a low cost manual reverse transcriptase assay (ExaVir(ρ) Load V.1 and V.2; Cavidi Tech AB) against commercially available HIV RNA assays that quantify viral load to assess its suitability for use in resource-constrained settings. Frozen plasma samples previously tested for RNA by RT-PCR (Roche Diagnostics) and bDNA (Bayer Diagnostics) were retested for RT activity. Text sequence obtained from HIV genotype analysis was submitted to the Stanford HIV Resistance Database V.3.9 and were examined for resistant virus. Detectable RT was present in 98% of samples (V.1; n=127) and in 95% of samples (V.2; n=69) with RNA > 10,000 and > 1,000 copies / ml respectively. Positive association was found between the log10 RNA copies / ml and log10 RT copies / ml equivalents variables using Pearsons correlation (V.1: r=0.89, n=189; V.2: r=0.89, n=85). The RT activity over time closely followed the trend for RNA levels in samples from 10 HIV seropositive patients with progressive disease. A strong association between RT and RNA was also found with paired samples from 19 patients taken at initiation or change of antiretroviral therapy and again within 2 months. Current (n=40) or no (n=119) exposure to efavirenz therapy had no effect on RT assay performance despite efavirenz binding tightly to the RT enzyme. Samples that demonstrated resistance to the nonnucleoside RT inhibitors (n=112) had a decrease in RT of 0.20 log10 indicating a possible decrease in RT fitness. The RT assay showed good association with current molecular assays, and V.2 is sufficiently sensitive for monitoring HIV viral load in resource-constrained settings.
Keywords: monitoring hiv infection, hiv reverse transcriptase, viral load, resource constrained countries
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