The HIV-1 integrase, responsible for the chromosomal integration of the newly synthesized doublestranded
viral DNA into the host genomic DNA, represents a new and important target of potential
clinical relevance. For instance, two integrase inhibitors, raltegravir and elvitegravir, have been shown
to be promising in clinical trials, and the first has been recently made available for clinical practice.
As is the case for other antiviral drugs, drug resistance to integrase inhibitors occurs both in vitro
and/or in vivo through the selection of mutations within the HIV genome. Indeed, many integrase
mutations have already been associated with resistance to all the different integrase inhibitors tested
in in vitro and/or in vivo studies. Among them, about 40 substitutions have been specifically
associated with the development of resistance to raltegravir and/or elvitegravir; some of them were
also found in vivo in patients failing such integrase inhibitors.
The relevance of integrase mutations in clinical practice has yet to be defined, in light of the lack of
long-term follow-up of treated patients and the limited data about the prevalence of integrase inhibitorassociated
mutations in integrase inhibitor-naive patients (either untreated, or treated with antiretrovirals
not containing integrase inhibitors).
Therefore, by structural analysis elaboration and literature discussion, the aim of this review is to characterize
the conserved residues and regions of HIV-1 integrase and the prevalence of mutations associated with
integrase inhibitor resistance, by matching data originated from a well-defined cohort of HIV-1 B subtypeinfected
individuals (untreated and antiretroviral-treated) and data originated from the public Los
Alamos Database available in the literature (all patients integrase inhibitor-naive by definition).
In integrase inhibitor-naive patients, 180 out of 288 HIV-1 integrase residues (62.5%) are conserved
(< 1% variability). Residues involved in protein stability, multimerization, DNA binding, catalytic activity,
and in the binding with the human cellular cofactor LEDGF/p75 are fully conserved. Some of these
residues clustered into large defined regions of consecutive invariant amino acids, suggesting that
consecutive residues in specific structural domains are required for the correct performance of HIV-1
All primary signature mutations emerging in patients failing raltegravir (Y143R, Q148H/K/R, N155H) or
elvitegravir (T66I, E92Q, S147G, Q148H/K/R, N155H), as well as secondary mutations (H51Y, T66A/K,
E138K, G140S/A/C, Y143C/H, K160N, R166S, E170A, S230R, D232N, R263K) were completely absent or
highly infrequent (< 0.5%) in integrase inhibitor-naive patients, either infected with HIV-1 B subtype
(drug-naive or antiretroviral-treated), or non-B subtypes/group N and O. Differently, other mutations (L74M, T97A, S119G/R, V151I, K156N, E157Q, G163K/R, V165I, I203M, T206S,
S230N) occurred as natural polymorphisms with a different prevalence according to different HIV-1
subtype/circulating recombinant form/group.
In conclusion, the HIV-1 integrase in vivo is an enzyme requiring the full preservation of almost
two-thirds of its amino acids in the absence of specific integrase inhibitor pressure. Primary mutations
associated with resistance to integrase inhibitors clinically relevant today are absent or highly infrequent
in integrase inhibitor-naive patients. The characterization of the highly conserved residues (involved in
protein stability, multimerization, DNA binding, catalytic activity, LEDGF binding, and some with still
poorly understood function) could help in the rational design of new HIV-1 inhibitors with alternative
mechanisms of action and more favorable resistance profiles.