Prevalence and Correlates of Persistent HIV-1 RNA in Cerebrospinal Fluid During Antiretroviral Therapy


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Background. Neurocognitive disorders remain common among human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)–positive adults, perhaps owing to persistent HIV-1 RNA in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) during antiretroviral therapy (ART). Methods. Using a single-copy assay, we measured HIV-1 RNA levels in CSF and plasma specimens from 220 HIV-positive adults who were taking suppressive ART. Fifty-five participants were tested twice. Results. HIV-1 RNA was detected in 42.3% of CSF and 65.2% of plasma samples. Correlates of higher CSF HIV-1 RNA levels included higher nadir and current CD4+ T-cell counts, a plasma HIV-1 RNA level of ≥ 1 copy/mL, and a lower central nervous system penetration-effectiveness score (model P < .001). Worse neurocognitive performance was associated with discordance in HIV-1 RNA detection between plasma and CSF, lower overall CSF HIV-1 RNA level, and longer ART duration, among others (model P < .001). In the longitudinal subgroup, CSF HIV-1 RNA persisted in most participants (69%) over 7 months. Conclusions. Low-level HIV-1 RNA in CSF is common during suppressive ART and is associated with low-level HIV-1 RNA in blood, better immune status, and lower ART drug distribution into CSF. The association between HIV-1 RNA discordance and HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND) may reflect compartmentalization. The relationship between HAND, lower HIV-1 RNA levels in CSF, and lower CD4+ T-cell counts may reflect disturbances in the immune response to HIV-1 in the CNS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-113
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • HIV
  • antiretroviral therapy
  • cerebrospinal fluid
  • cognitive disorders


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