HIV-1 DNA Detection: Whole Blood vs Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells

doctor in scrubs doing blood test
Is there a more convenient and economical procedure for quantifying HIV-1 than by isolating PBMCs?

Whole blood testing for total human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) DNA was consistent with results from peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) HIV-1 DNA tests. These findings were published in BMC Infectious Diseases.

Patients (N=44) living with HIV-1 were recruited for this study. Patients gave peripheral blood and PBMCs were separated. Then DNA was extracted and total HIV-1 DNA was quantified.

For PBMCs, fresh peripheral blood was collected in ETDA anticoagulant tubes and after separation, PBMC samples were stored in liquid nitrogen until quantification. For whole blood, Roche MagNa Pure nucleic acid extraction instruments were used, and samples stored at -80°C until quantification. Both samples contained 200 mL for consistency. Quantification of HIV-1 DNA were performed using real-time SUPBIO HIV Quantitative Detection Kits.

The samples were sourced from 42 males and 2 females with a median age of 33 years (interquartile range [IQR], 27-40). Most patients (n=33) had undergone a median of 3 months of antiviral treatment prior to blood extraction.

The median viral load was 1.83 (IQR, 1.30-4.46) log10/mL, CD4 count was 94 (IQR, 70-369) cells/mL, CD8 was 680 (IQR, 501-826) cells/mL, and CD4/CD8 ratio was 0.18 (IQR, 0.09-0.34).

The average total HIV-1 DNA detected in PBMC samples was 3.02 plus or minus 0.39 log10/106 and in whole blood was 3.05 plus or minus 0.40 log10/106 (P =.370). The overall correlation between samples per person was 0.887 (95% CI, 0.803-0.937; P <.001).

The mean difference between whole blood and PBMC samples was 0.030 log10/106 and only 2 samples (4.55%) were beyond the 95% limit of agreement (-0.340~0.390).

This study was limited by not including patients living with HIV-2. It is not clear whether HIV-2 whole blood total DNA could be consistently assessed in whole blood.

HIV-1 total DNA could be assessed accurately from 200 mL of whole blood. These results indicated HIV-1 may be quantified by a more convenient and economical procedure than by isolating PBMCs.


Lin L, Yue YS, Wang ND, et al. Whole blood as an alternative to peripheral blood mononuclear cell for detection of total HIV-1 DNA. BMC Infect Dis. 2020;20(1):941. doi:10.1186/s12879-020-05675-3