Throughout the natural course of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, follicular dendritic cells (FDCs) trap and retain large quantities of particle-associated HIV RNA in the follicles of secondary lymphoid tissue. We have previously found that murine FDCs in vivo could maintain trapped virus particles in an infectious state for at least 9 months. Here we sought to determine whether human FDCs serve as an HIV reservoir, based on the criteria that virus therein must be replication competent, genetically diverse, and archival in nature. We tested our hypothesis using postmortem cells and tissues obtained from three HIV-infected subjects and antemortem blood samples obtained from one of these subjects. Replication competence was determined using coculture, while genetic diversity and the archival nature of virus were established using phylogenetic and population genetics methods. We found that FDC-trapped virus was replication competent and demonstrated greater genetic diversity than that of virus found in most other tissues and cells. Antiretrovirus-resistant variants that were not present elsewhere were also detected on FDCs. Furthermore, genetic similarity was observed between FDC-trapped HIV and viral species recovered from peripheral blood mononuclear cells obtained 21 and 22 months antemortem, but was not present in samples obtained 4 and 18 months prior to the patient's death, indicating that FDCs can archive HIV. These data indicate that FDCs represent a significant reservoir of infectious and diverse HIV, thereby providing a mechanism for viral persistence for months to years.
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