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J Virol. 1991 May; 65(5): 2231–2236.
PMCID: PMC240571

Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection of human placenta: potential route for fetal infection.


To determine the potential role of the placenta in transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from mother to fetus, the ability of human placental tissue to support HIV type 1 (HIV-1) infection was examined. HIV-1-seronegative first-trimester placentas were maintained in culture and infected with HIV-1. Virus production, measured by HIV-1 antigen release into the supernatant, and HIV-1 DNA, identified by polymerase chain reaction, were detected for at least 12 days postinfection. Western immunoblot analysis showed Gag proteins, precursor p55, and cleavage products p24 and p17 in HIV-1-infected tissues. Double labeling of placental villi with antibodies to CD4 and placental trophoblast-specific alkaline phosphatase indicated that trophoblasts express CD4 antigen. Additionally, immunostaining of HIV-1-infected tissues with anti-p24 antibodies demonstrated HIV-1 protein expression in placental trophoblasts. Evaluation of human chorionic gonadotropin and progesterone production by the placental cultures indicated that there was a 90% decrease in human chorionic gonadotropin and a 70% decrease in progesterone production in HIV-1-infected cultures in comparison with controls. These data demonstrate that trophoblastic cells of human placenta tissue express CD4 and are susceptible to HIV-1 infection; also, placental endocrine function is decreased by HIV-1 infection. Thus, the placenta may serve as a reservoir of HIV-1 infection during pregnancy contributing to infection of the fetus, and decreased placental hormone production may result in impaired fetal development.

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