Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) exhibits remarkable diversity in its genomic makeup and exists in any given individual as a complex distribution of closely related but nonidentical genomes called a viral quasispecies, which is subject to genetic variation, competition, and selection. This viral diversity clinically manifests as a selection of mutant variants based on viral fitness in treatment-naive individuals and based on drug-selective pressure in those on antiretroviral therapy (ART). The current standard-of-care ART consists of a combination of antiretroviral agents, which ensures maximal viral suppression while preventing the emergence of drug-resistant HIV variants. Unfortunately, transmission of drug-resistant HIV does occur, affecting 5% to >20% of newly infected individuals. To optimize therapy, clinicians rely on viral genotypic information obtained from conventional population sequencing–based assays, which cannot reliably detect viral variants that constitute <20% of the circulating viral quasispecies. These low-frequency variants can be detected by highly sensitive genotyping methods collectively grouped under the moniker of deep sequencing. Low-frequency variants have been correlated to treatment failures and HIV transmission, and detection of these variants is helping to inform strategies for vaccine development. Here, we discuss the molecular virology of HIV, viral heterogeneity, drug-resistance mutations, and the application of deep sequencing technologies in research and the clinical care of HIV-infected individuals.


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