The U.S. Army initiated an investigation in response to observations of a possible increase in HIV incidence among soldiers deployed to combat. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected U.S. Army soldiers are not eligible to deploy. Combat presents a health hazard to HIV-infected soldiers and they pose a threat to the safety of the battlefield blood supply and their contacts. All soldiers are routinely screened for HIV every 2 years and those who deploy are also screened both prior to and after deployment. Seroconversion rates were estimated for all soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq in the period 2001–2007 and all active duty soldiers who did not. Seroconverters with an estimated date of infection, based on calculation of the midpoint between the last seronegative and first seropositive test date, that was either before or during deployment were eligible for inclusion. Confidential interviews and medical record reviews were conducted to determine the most likely time, geographic location, and mode of infection. Reposed predeployment samples were tested for HIV ribonucleic acid. The HIV seroconversion rate among all soldiers who deployed was less than the rate among those who did not deploy: 1.04 and 1.42 per 10,000 person-years, respectively. Among 48 cases, most were determined to have been infected in the United States or Germany and prior to deployment (n=20, 42%) or during rest and relaxation leave (n=13, 27%). Seven seronegative acute infections were identified in the predeployment period. Subtype was determined for 40 individuals; all were subtype B infections. All were acquired through sexual contact. These findings can inform development of preventive interventions and refinement of existing screening policy to further reduce HIV-infected deployed soldier person time.
Specific glycosphingolipids (GSL), found on the surface of target immune cells, are recognized as alternate cell surface receptors by the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) external envelope glycoprotein. In this study, the globotriose and 3’-sialyllactose carbohydrate head groups found on two GSL were covalently attached to a dendrimer core to produce two types of unique multivalent carbohydrates (MVC). These MVC inhibited HIV-1 infection of T cell lines and primary peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) by T cell line-adapted viruses or primary isolates, with IC50s ranging from 0.1 – 7.4 µg/ml. Inhibition of Env-mediated membrane fusion by MVC was also observed using a dye-transfer assay. These carbohydrate compounds warrant further investigation as a potential new class of HIV-1 entry inhibitors. The data presented also shed light on the role of carbohydrate moieties in HIV-1 virus-host cell interactions.
human immunodeficiency virus-1; multivalent carbohydrates; 3’ sialyllactose; globotriose; peripheral blood mononuclear cells; T cell lines
The crucial role of recombination in HIV-1 biology is being increasingly recognized. In vitro studies have shown that up to 30 strand-transfer events may occur per viral replication cycle. Thus, recombination may surpass mutation as a major mechanism driving HIV-1 evolution. Currently, recombinant strains comprise 37% of the full-genome HIV-1 sequence database, including sequences representing 47 Circulating Recombinant Forms (CRFs) and more than 250 different Unique Recombinant Forms (URFs). Mapping of recombination breakpoints helps establish relationships among strains that are related by descent, such as CRF07_BC and CRF08_BC in China, and sheds light on their origin and epidemic spread. Additionally, unrelated recombinants sharing common breakpoints may reflect recombination hotspots within the viral genome. Here we present a software tool, RecDraw, for the graphical representation and efficient comparison of recombinant HIV-1 structures and breakpoints. RecDraw is a platform-flexible, Java stand-alone application available through http://www.hivresearch.org/research.php?ServiceID = 5&SubServiceID = 6.
The viral load setpoint (VLS) is an important predictor of HIV disease progression, but there is a lack of information regarding the VLS and its possible determinants in African populations.
Initially HIV negative adults from three distinct groups (female barworkers, females and males from the general population) were followed for up to four years. The VLS was calculated for 108 seroconverters and associations of the VLS with possible risk factors were analyzed using univariate and multivariate regression.
The median VLS for female barworkers, females and males from the general population were 69,850, 28,600 and 158,000 RNA copies/ml respectively. Significant associations with an elevated viral load were observed for male gender (Risk Ratio (RR)=1.83, 95% confidence interval (95%CI)=1.14–2.93), the expression of harmful HLA I alleles (RR=1.73, 95%CI=1.13–2.66) and multiple infection with different HIV-1 subtypes (RR=1.65, 95%CI =1.03–2.66). Barworkers were considerably more often infected with different HIV-1 subtypes than participants from the general population.
Our study confirms that gender and the expression of different HLA class I alleles are important determinants of the viremia at VLS and it also corroborates an earlier finding that multiple infection with different HIV-1 subtypes is associated with a higher VLS.
HIV-1 infection; Acute infection; Viral load setpoint; Multiple infection; HLA class I alleles; Africa
Little information is available regarding a circulating HIV genotype among high-risk groups in Afghanistan; we describe HIV genotypes among injecting drug users (IDUs) and sex workers (SWs) in four Afghan cities. Participants completed behavioral questionnaires and HIV testing. Western blot–confirmed specimens had peripheral mononuclear blood cells isolated for genotyping. Analysis of recombinants was done by bootscanning and manual sequence alignment. The single SW sample harbored a CRF01_AE strain. Of 10 IDUs available for analysis, all were CRF35_AD and from Hirat. Analyzed subregions (gag p17 and env C1-C5) revealed close homology between the Hirat specimens. Three distinct subclusters comprising two or three strains were identified, whereas two other strains were generally equidistant from previously identified Kabul strains. Results suggest that the nascent HIV epidemic among IDUs in Hirat is largely, if not entirely, subtype CRF35_AD, and the close homology suggests recent infection; harm reduction should be supported to avert further transmission.
The restricted neutralization breadth of vaccine-elicited antibodies is a major limitation of current human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) candidate vaccines. In order to permit the efficient identification of vaccines with enhanced capacity for eliciting cross-reactive neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) and to assess the overall breadth and potency of vaccine-elicited NAb reactivity, we assembled a panel of 109 molecularly cloned HIV-1 Env pseudoviruses representing a broad range of genetic and geographic diversity. Viral isolates from all major circulating genetic subtypes were included, as were viruses derived shortly after transmission and during the early and chronic stages of infection. We assembled a panel of genetically diverse HIV-1-positive (HIV-1+) plasma pools to assess the neutralization sensitivities of the entire virus panel. When the viruses were rank ordered according to the average sensitivity to neutralization by the HIV-1+ plasmas, a continuum of average sensitivity was observed. Clustering analysis of the patterns of sensitivity defined four subgroups of viruses: those having very high (tier 1A), above-average (tier 1B), moderate (tier 2), or low (tier 3) sensitivity to antibody-mediated neutralization. We also investigated potential associations between characteristics of the viral isolates (clade, stage of infection, and source of virus) and sensitivity to NAb. In particular, higher levels of NAb activity were observed when the virus and plasma pool were matched in clade. These data provide the first systematic assessment of the overall neutralization sensitivities of a genetically and geographically diverse panel of circulating HIV-1 strains. These reference viruses can facilitate the systematic characterization of NAb responses elicited by candidate vaccine immunogens.
The HIV pandemic disseminated globally from Central West Africa, beginning in the second half of the twentieth century. To elucidate the virologic origins of the pandemic, a cross-sectional study was conducted of the genetic diversity of HIV-1 strains in villagers in 14 remote locations in Cameroon and in hospitalized and STI patients. DNA extracted from PBMC was PCR amplified from HIV(+) subjects. Partial pol amplicons (N = 164) and nearly full virus genomes (N = 78) were sequenced. Among the 3956 rural villagers studied, the prevalence of HIV infection was 4.9%; among the hospitalized and clinic patients, it was 8.6%.
Virus genotypes fell into two distinctive groups. A majority of the genotyped strains (109/164) were the circulating recombinant form (CRF) known to be endemic in West Africa and Central West Africa, CRF02_AG. The second most common genetic form (9/164) was the recently described CRF22_01A1, and the rest were a collection of 4 different subtypes (A2, D, F2, G) and 6 different CRFs (-01, -11, -13, -18, -25, -37). Remarkably, 10.4% of HIV-1 genomes detected (17/164) were heretofore undescribed unique recombinant forms (URF) present in only a single person. Nearly full genome sequencing was completed for 78 of the viruses of interest. HIV genetic diversity was commonplace in rural villages: 12 villages each had at least one newly detected URF, and 9 villages had two or more.
These results show that while CRF02_AG dominated the HIV strains in the rural villages, the remainder of the viruses had tremendous genetic diversity. Between the trans-species transmission of SIVcpz and the dispersal of pandemic HIV-1, there was a time when we hypothesize that nascent HIV-1 was spreading, but only to a limited extent, recombining with other local HIV-1, creating a large variety of recombinants. When one of those recombinants began to spread widely (i.e. became epidemic), it was recognized as a subtype. We hypothesize that the viruses in these remote Cameroon villages may represent that pre-epidemic stage of viral evolution.
Little is known about the neutralization properties of HIV-1 in India to optimally design and test vaccines. For this reason, a functional Env clone was obtained from each of ten newly acquired, heterosexually transmitted HIV-1 infections in Pune, Maharashtra. These clones formed a phylogenetically distinct genetic lineage within subtype C. As Env-pseudotyped viruses the clones were mostly resistant to IgG1b12, 2G12 and 2F5 but all were sensitive to 4E10. When compared to a large multi-subtype panel of Env-pseudotyped viruses (subtypes B, C and CRF02_AG) in neutralization assays with a multi-subtype panel of HIV-1-positive plasma samples, the Indian Envs were remarkably complex antigenically. With the exception of the Indian Envs, results of a hierarchical clustering analysis showed a strong subtype association with the patterns of neutralization susceptibility. From these patterns we were able to identify 19 neutralization cluster-associated amino acid signatures in gp120 and 14 signatures in the ectodomain and cytoplasmic tail of gp41. We conclude that newly transmitted Indian Envs are antigenically complex in spite of close genetic similarity. Delineation of neutralization-associated amino acid signatures provides a deeper understanding of the antigenic structure of HIV-1 Env.
Subtype A is a major strain in the HIV-1 pandemic in eastern Europe, central Asia and in certain regions of east Africa, notably in rural Kenya. While considerable effort has been focused upon mapping and defining immunodominant CTL epitopes in HIV-1 subtype B and subtype C infections, few epitope mapping studies have focused upon subtype A.
We have used the IFN-γ ELIspot assay and overlapping peptide pools to show that the pattern of CTL recognition of the Gag and Nef proteins in subtype A infection is similar to that seen in subtypes B and C. The p17 and p24 proteins of Gag and the central conserved region of Nef were targeted by CTL from HIV-1-infected Kenyans. Several epitope/HLA associations commonly seen in subtype B and C infection were also observed in subtype A infections. Notably, an immunodominant HLA-C restricted epitope (Gag 296–304; YL9) was observed, with 8/9 HLA-CW0304 subjects responding to this epitope. Screening the cohort with peptide sets representing subtypes A, C and D (the three most prevalent HIV-1 subtypes in east Africa), revealed that peptide sets based upon an homologous subtype (either isolate or consensus) only marginally improved the capacity to detect CTL responses. While the different peptide sets detected a similar number of responses (particularly in the Gag protein), each set was capable of detecting unique responses not identified with the other peptide sets.
Hence, screening with multiple peptide sets representing different sequences, and by extension different epitope variants, can increase the detectable breadth of the HIV-1-specific CTL response. Interpreting the true extent of cross-reactivity may be hampered by the use of 15-mer peptides at a single concentration and a lack of knowledge of the sequence that primed any given CTL response. Therefore, reagent choice and knowledge of the exact sequences that prime CTL responses will be important factors in experimentally defining cross-reactive CTL responses and their role in HIV-1 disease pathogenesis and validating vaccines aimed at generating broadly cross-reactive CTL responses.
A critical priority for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) vaccine development is standardization of reagents and assays for evaluation of immune responses elicited by candidate vaccines. To provide a panel of viral reagents from multiple vaccine trial sites, 60 international HIV-1 isolates were expanded in peripheral blood mononuclear cells and characterized both genetically and biologically. Ten isolates each from clades A, B, C, and D and 10 isolates each from CRF01_AE and CRF02_AG were prepared from individuals whose HIV-1 infection was evaluated by complete genome sequencing. The main criterion for selection was that the candidate isolate was pure clade or pure circulating recombinant. After expansion in culture, the complete envelope (gp160) of each isolate was verified by sequencing. The 50% tissue culture infectious dose and p24 antigen concentration for each viral stock were determined; no correlation between these two biologic parameters was found. Syncytium formation in MT-2 cells and CCR5 or CXCR4 coreceptor usage were determined for all isolates. Isolates were also screened for neutralization by soluble CD4, a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies, and a pool of HIV-1-positive patient sera. The panel consists of 49 nonsyncytium-inducing isolates that use CCR5 as a major coreceptor and 11 syncytium-inducing isolates that use only CXCR4 or both coreceptors. Neutralization profiles suggest that the panel contains both neutralization-sensitive and -resistant isolates. This collection of HIV-1 isolates represents the six major globally prevalent strains, is exceptionally large and well characterized, and provides an important resource for standardization of immunogenicity assessment in HIV-1 vaccine trials.
A high percentage of rural villagers are exposed to blood of nonhuman primates and risk acquiring infectious diseases.
Exposure to nonhuman primates has led to the emergence of important diseases, including Ebola hemorrhagic fever, AIDS, and adult T-cell leukemia. To determine the extent of exposure to nonhuman primates, persons were examined in 17 remote villages in Cameroon that represented three habitats (savanna, gallery forest, and lowland forest). Questionnaire data were collected to assess whether persons kept wild animal pets; hunted and butchered wild game; had experienced bites, scratches, or injuries from live animals; or had been injured during hunting or butchering. While all villages had substantial exposure to nonhuman primates, higher rates of exposure were seen in lowland forest sites. The study demonstrates that exposure is not limited to small groups of hunters. A high percentage of rural villagers report exposure to nonhuman primate blood and body fluids and risk acquiring infectious diseases.
Primate Diseases; Zoonoses; Ecology; Cross-species transmission; Hunting; Bushmeat; Central Africa; research
Phylogenetic analyses demonstrate significant diversity in worldwide circulating strains of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). Detailed studies have revealed a complex pattern of intersubtype recombinations, as well as evidence of sub-subtypes circulating in various populations. In this study, we characterized an HIV-1 strain that had previously been identified as a distinct subcluster within the subtype A radiation based on partial sequence data. These viruses were of particular interest given that we recently found that their prevalence was significantly higher in dually infected individuals compared to women who were singly infected with HIV-1. Five viruses isolated from commercial sex workers in Dakar, Senegal, were full-length PCR amplified and sequenced. Phylogenetic analyses indicated that, whereas three of these viruses were closely related and clustered overall within the HIV-1 subtype A radiation, they were distinct from previously characterized sub-subtype A1 and A2 viruses. The clustering pattern was maintained in the individual gag, pol, and env regions of the genome. Distance calculations between these viruses, which we termed A3, and other reference sub-subtype A1 and A2 viruses fell in the range of distances between previously characterized sub-subtype groups. In addition, we found evidence of two A3-containing recombinants in our cohort. These recombinants are mosaics composed of sequence from both sub-subtype A3 and CRF02_AG, the major circulating recombinant form in this West African population. Based on phylogenetic analyses, we propose that the group of viruses found in the Dakar sex worker cohort, previously referred to as HIV-1 A subcluster 2, be referred to as HIV-1 sub-subtype A3.
G-to-A hypermutation has been sporadically observed in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) proviral sequences from patient peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and virus cultures but has not been systematically evaluated. PCR primers matched to normal and hypermutated sequences were used in conjunction with an agarose gel electrophoresis system incorporating an AT-binding dye to visualize, separate, clone, and sequence hypermutated and normal sequences in the 297-bp HIV-1 protease gene amplified from patient PBMC. Among 53 patients, including individuals infected with subtypes A through D and at different clinical stages, at least 43% of patients harbored abundant hypermutated, along with normal, protease genes. In 70 hypermutated sequences, saturation of G residues in the GA or GG dinucleotide context ranged from 20 to 94%. Levels of other mutants were not elevated, and G-to-A replacement was entirely restricted to GA or GG, and not GC or GT, dinucleotides. Sixty-nine of 70 hypermutated and 3 of 149 normal sequences had in-frame stop codons. To investigate the conditions under which hypermutation occurs in cell cultures, purified CD4+ T cells from normal donors were infected with cloned NL4-3 virus stocks at various times before and after phytohemagglutinin (PHA) activation. Hypermutation was pronounced when HIV-1 infection occurred simultaneously with, or a few hours after, PHA activation, but after 12 h or more after PHA activation, most HIV-1 sequences were normal. Hypermutated sequences generated in culture corresponded exactly in all parameters to those obtained from patient PBMC. Near-simultaneous activation and infection of CD4+ T cells may represent a window of susceptibility where the informational content of HIV-1 sequences is lost due to hypermutation.
New outbreaks of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) among injecting drug users (IDUs) are spreading in China along heroin trafficking routes. Recently, two separate HIV-1 epidemics among IDUs were reported in Guangxi, Southern China, where partial sequencing of the env gene showed subtype C and circulating recombinant form (CRF) AE. We evaluated five virtually full-length HIV-1 genome sequences from IDUs in Guangxi to determine the genetic diversity and the presence of intersubtype recombinants. Sequence analysis showed two geographically separated, highly homogeneous HIV-1 strains. B/C intersubtype recombinants were found in three IDUs from Baise City, in a mountainous region near the Yunnan-Guangxi border. These were mostly subtype C, with portions of the capsid and reverse transcriptase (RT) genes from subtype B. The subtype B portion of the capsid was located in the N-terminal domain, which has been shown to influence virus core maturation, virus infectivity, and binding to cyclophilin A, whereas the subtype B portion of RT was located in the palm subdomain, which is the active site of the enzyme. These BC recombinants differed from a BC recombinant found in Xinjiang Province in northwestern China. CRF AE strains were found in IDUs from Nanning, the capital of Guangxi, and in IDUs from Pingxiang City near the China-Vietnam border. The AE and BC recombinants were both remarkable for their low interpatient diversity, less than 1% for the full genome. Rapid spread of HIV-1 among IDUs may foster the emergence of highly homogeneous strains, including novel recombinants in regions with multiple subtypes.
We developed a heteroduplex mobility assay in the gag gene (gag HMA) for the identification of group M subtypes A to H. The assay covers the region coding for amino acid 132 of p24 to amino acid 20 of p7 (according to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 [HIV-1] ELI, 460 bp). The gag HMA was compared with sequencing and phylogenetic analysis of an evaluation panel of 79 HIV-1 group M isolates isolated from infected individuals from different geographic regions. Application of gag HMA in combination with env HMA on 252 HIV-1- positive plasma samples from Bénin, Cameroon, Kenya, and Zambia revealed a high prevalence of a variety of intersubtype recombinants in Yaoundé, Cameroon (53.8%); Kisumu, Kenya (26.8%); and Cotonou, Bénin (41%); no recombinants were identified among the samples from Ndola, Zambia. The AGIbNG circulating recombinant form, as determined by gag HMA, was found to be the most common intersubtype recombinant in Yaoundé (39.4%) and Cotonou (38.5%). Using a one-tube reverse transcriptase PCR protocol, this gag HMA in combination with env HMA is a useful tool for rapidly monitoring the prevalence of the various genetic subtypes as well as of recombinants of HIV-1. Moreover, this technology can easily be applied in laboratories in developing countries.
Accurate determination of plasma human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) RNA levels is critical for the effective management of HIV-1 disease. The AMPLICOR HIV-1 MONITOR Test, a reverse transcription-PCR-based test for quantification of HIV-1 RNA in plasma, was developed when little sequence information on HIV-1 isolates from outside North America was available. It has since become apparent that many non-subtype B isolates, particularly subtypes A and E, are detected inefficiently by the test. We describe here the AMPLICOR HIV-1 MONITOR Test, version 1.5, an upgraded test developed to minimize subtype-related variation. We also developed a panel of HIV-1 standards containing 30 HIV-1 isolates of subtypes A through G. The virus particle concentration of each cultured viral stock was standardized by electron microscopic virus particle counting. We used this panel to determine the performance of the original AMPLICOR HIV-1 MONITOR Test and version 1.5 of the test with HIV-1 subtypes A through G. The original test underestimated the concentration of HIV-1 subtype A, E, F, and G RNA by 10-fold or more, whereas version of the 1.5 test yielded equivalent quantification of HIV-1 RNA regardless of the subtype. In light of the increasing intermixing of HIV-1 subtypes worldwide, standardization of PCR-based tests against well-characterized viral isolates representing the full range of HIV-1 diversity will be essential for the continued utility of these important clinical management tools.
Recombinant forms of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) have been shown to be of major importance in the global AIDS pandemic. Viral RNA dimer formation mediated by the dimerization initiation sequence (DIS) is believed to be essential for viral genomic RNA packaging and therefore for RNA recombination. Here, we demonstrate that HIV-1 recombination and replication are not restricted by variant DIS loop sequences. Three DIS loop forms found among HIV-1 isolates, DIS (CG), DIS (TA), and DIS (TG), when introduced into deletion mutants of HIV-1 recombined efficiently, and the progeny virions replicated with comparable kinetics. A fourth DIS loop form, containing an artificial AAAAAA sequence disrupting the putative DIS loop-loop interactions [DIS (A6)], supported efficient recombination with DIS loop variants; however, DIS (A6) progeny virions exhibited a modest replication disadvantage in mixed cultures. Our studies indicate that the nonhomologous DIS sequences found in different HIV-1 subtypes are not a primary obstacle to intersubtype recombination.
Standardized assays to assess vaccine and antiviral drug efficacy are critical for the development of protective HIV-1 vaccines and drugs. These immune assays will be advanced by the development of standardized viral stocks, such as HIV-1 infectious molecular clones (IMC), that i) express a reporter gene, ii) are representative of globally diverse subtypes and iii) are engineered to easily exchange envelope (env) genes for expression of sequences of interest. Thus far, a subtype B IMC backbone expressing Renilla luciferase (LucR), and into which the ectodomain of heterologous env coding sequences can be expressed has been successfully developed but as execution of HIV-1 vaccine efficacy trials shifts increasingly to non-subtype B epidemics (Southern African and Southeast Asia), non-subtype B HIV-1 reagents are needed to support vaccine development. Here we describe two IMCs derived from subtypes C and CRF01_AE HIV-1 primary isolates expressing LucR (IMC.LucR) that were engineered to express heterologous gp160 Envs. 18 constructs expressing various subtypes C and CRF01_AE Envs, mostly acute, in subtype-matched and –unmatched HIV backbones were tested for functionality and neutralization sensitivity. Our results suggest a possible effect of non-env HIV-1 genes on the interaction of Env and neutralizing antibodies and highlight the need to generate a library of IMCs representative of the HIV-1 subtype spectrum to be used as standardized neutralization assay reagents for assessing HIV-1 vaccine efficacy.
The RV144 HIV-1 vaccine trial (Thailand, 2003 to 2009), using immunogens genetically matched to the regional epidemic, demonstrated the first evidence of efficacy for an HIV-1 vaccine. Here we studied the molecular evolution of the HIV-1 epidemic from the time of immunogen selection to the execution of the efficacy trial. We studied HIV-1 genetic diversity among 390 volunteers who were deferred from enrollment in RV144 due to preexisting HIV-1 infection using a multiregion hybridization assay, full-genome sequencing, and phylogenetic analyses. The subtype distribution was 91.7% CRF01_AE, 3.5% subtype B, 4.3% B/CRF01_AE recombinants, and 0.5% dual infections. CRF01_AE strains were 31% more diverse than the ones from the 1990s Thai epidemic. Sixty-nine percent of subtype B strains clustered with the cosmopolitan Western B strains. Ninety-three percent of B/CRF01_AE recombinants were unique; recombination breakpoint analysis showed that these strains were highly embedded within the larger network that integrates recombinants from East/Southeast Asia. Compared to Thai sequences from the early 1990s, the distance to the RV144 immunogens increased 52% to 68% for CRF01_AE Env immunogens and 12% to 29% for subtype B immunogens. Forty-three percent to 48% of CRF01_AE sequences differed from the sequence of the vaccine insert in Env variable region 2 positions 169 and 181, which were implicated in vaccine sieve effects in RV144. In conclusion, compared to the molecular picture at the early stages of vaccine development, our results show an overall increase in the genetic complexity of viruses in the Thai epidemic and in the distance to vaccine immunogens, which should be considered at the time of the analysis of the trial results.
We analyzed HIV-1 genome sequences from 68 newly-infected volunteers in the Step HIV-1 vaccine trial. To determine whether the vaccine exerted selective T-cell pressure on breakthrough viruses, we identified potential T-cell epitopes in the founder sequences and compared them to epitopes in the vaccine. We found greater distances for sequences from vaccine recipients than from placebo recipients (p-values ranging from < 0.0001 to 0.09). The most significant signature site distinguishing vaccine from placebo recipients was Gag-84, a site encompassed by several epitopes contained in the vaccine and restricted by HLA alleles common in the cohort. Moreover, the extended divergence was confined to the vaccine components of the virus (Gag, Pol, Nef) and not found in other HIV-1 proteins. These results represent the first evidence of selective pressure from vaccine-induced T-cell responses on HIV-1 infection.
Characterization of viruses in HIV-1 transmission pairs will help identify biological determinants of infectiousness and evaluate candidate interventions to reduce transmission. Although HIV-1 sequencing is frequently used to substantiate linkage between newly HIV-1 infected individuals and their sexual partners in epidemiologic and forensic studies, viral sequencing is seldom applied in HIV-1 prevention trials. The Partners in Prevention HSV/HIV Transmission Study (ClinicalTrials.gov #NCT00194519) was a prospective randomized placebo-controlled trial that enrolled serodiscordant heterosexual couples to determine the efficacy of genital herpes suppression in reducing HIV-1 transmission; as part of the study analysis, HIV-1 sequences were examined for genetic linkage between seroconverters and their enrolled partners.
We obtained partial consensus HIV-1 env and gag sequences from blood plasma for 151 transmission pairs and performed deep sequencing of env in some cases. We analyzed sequences with phylogenetic techniques and developed a Bayesian algorithm to evaluate the probability of linkage. For linkage, we required monophyletic clustering between enrolled partners' sequences and a Bayesian posterior probability of ≥50%. Adjudicators classified each seroconversion, finding 108 (71.5%) linked, 40 (26.5%) unlinked, and 3 (2.0%) indeterminate transmissions, with linkage determined by consensus env sequencing in 91 (84%). Male seroconverters had a higher frequency of unlinked transmissions than female seroconverters. The likelihood of transmission from the enrolled partner was related to time on study, with increasing numbers of unlinked transmissions occurring after longer observation periods. Finally, baseline viral load was found to be significantly higher among linked transmitters.
In this first use of HIV-1 sequencing to establish endpoints in a large clinical trial, more than one-fourth of transmissions were unlinked to the enrolled partner, illustrating the relevance of these methods in the design of future HIV-1 prevention trials in serodiscordant couples. A hierarchy of sequencing techniques, analysis methods, and expert adjudication contributed to the linkage determination process.
HLA, the most genetically diverse loci in the human genome, play a crucial role in host-pathogen interaction by mediating innate and adaptive cellular immune responses. A vast number of infectious diseases affect East Africa, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, but the HLA genetic diversity in this region remains incompletely described. This is a major obstacle for the design and evaluation of preventive vaccines. Available HLA typing techniques, that provide the 4-digit level resolution needed to interpret immune responses, lack sufficient throughput for large immunoepidemiological studies. Here we present a novel HLA typing assay bridging the gap between high resolution and high throughput. The assay is based on real-time PCR using sequence-specific primers (SSP) and can genotype carriers of the 49 most common East African class I HLA-A, -B, and -C alleles, at the 4-digit level. Using a validation panel of 175 samples from Kampala, Uganda, previously defined by sequence-based typing, the new assay performed with 100% sensitivity and specificity. The assay was also implemented to define the HLA genetic complexity of a previously uncharacterized Tanzanian population, demonstrating its inclusion in the major East African genetic cluster. The availability of genotyping tools with this capacity will be extremely useful in the identification of correlates of immune protection and the evaluation of candidate vaccine efficacy.