BackgroundPersistence of latent, replication-competent provirus in CD4+ T cells of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected individuals on antiretroviral treatment (ART) is the main obstacle for virus eradication. Methylation of the proviral 5′ long terminal repeat (LTR) promoter region has been proposed as a possible mechanism contributing to HIV latency; however, conflicting observations exist regarding its relevance. We assessed 5′-LTR methylation profiles in total CD4+ T cells from blood of 12 participants on short-term ART (30 months) followed up for 2 years, and a cross-sectional group of participants with long-term ART (6–15 years), using next generation sequencing. We then looked for associations between specific 5′-LTR methylation patterns and baseline and follow-up clinical characteristics.Results5′-LTR methylation was observed in all participants and behaved dynamically. The number of 5′-LTR variants found per sample ranged from 1 to 13, with median sequencing depth of 16270× (IQR 4107×-46760×). An overall significant 5′-LTR methylation increase was observed at month 42 compared to month 30 (median CpG Methylation Index: 74.7% vs. 0%, p = 0.025). This methylation increase was evident in a subset of participants (methylation increase group), while the rest maintained fairly high and constant methylation (constant methylation group). Persons in the methylation increase group were younger, had higher CD4+ T cell gain, larger CD8% decrease, and larger CD4/CD8 ratio change after 48 months on ART (all p < 0.001). Using principal component analysis, the constant methylation and methylation increase groups showed low evidence of separation along time (factor 2: p = 0.04). Variance was largely explained (21%) by age, CD4+/CD8+ T cell change, and CD4+ T cell subpopulation proportions. Persons with long-term ART showed overall high methylation (median CpG Methylation Index: 78%; IQR 71–87%). No differences were observed in residual plasma viral load or proviral load comparing individuals on short-term (both at 30 or 42 months) and long-term ART.ConclusionsOur study shows evidence that HIV 5′-LTR methylation in total CD4+ T cells is dynamic along time and that it can follow different temporal patterns that are associated with a combination of baseline and follow-up clinical characteristics. These observations may account for differences observed between previous contrasting studies.