Editor’s note: This article was originally published on the Center for Cancer Research website.
When the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infects a cell, the virus inserts a copy of its genetic material into the host cell’s DNA. The inserted genetic material, which is also called a provirus, is used to produce new viruses. Because the viral DNA can be inserted at many sites in the host cell DNA, the site of integration marks each infected cell. Patients infected with HIV are currently treated with combined antiretroviral therapy (cART), which prevents viral replication in the majority of treated patients. When cART is initiated, most HIV-infected cells die in one or two days, and more of the infected cells die over a period of weeks to months. However there are some long-lived infected cells that do not die, which prevents patients from being cured.