Interruption of suppressive highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in HIV-infected patients leads to increased HIV replication and viral rebound in peripheral blood. Effects of therapy interruption on gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) have not been well investigated. We evaluated longitudinal changes in viral replication and emergence of viral variants in the context of T cell homeostasis and gene expression in GALT of three HIV-positive patients who initiated HAART during primary HIV infection but opted to interrupt therapy thereafter. Longitudinal viral sequence analysis revealed that a stable proviral reservoir was established in GALT during primary HIV infection that persisted through early HAART and post-therapy interruption. Proviral variants in GALT and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) displayed low levels of genomic diversity at all times. A rapid increase in viral loads with a modest decline of CD4 + T cells in peripheral blood was observed, while gut mucosal CD4 + T cell loss was severe following HAART interruption. This was accompanied by increased mucosal gene expression regulating interferon (IFN)-mediated antiviral responses and immune activation, a profile similar to those found in HAART-naive HIV-infected patients. Sequence analysis of rebound virus suggested that GALT was not the major contributor to the postinterruption plasma viremia nor were GALT HIV reservoirs rapidly replaced by HIV rebound variants. Our data suggest an early establishment and persistence of viral reservoirs in GALT with minimal diversity. Early detection of and therapy for HIV infection may be beneficial in controlling viral evolution and limiting establishment of diverse viral reservoirs in the mucosal compartment.
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