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Syncytium-inducing (SI) phenotype suppression at seroconversion after intramuscular inoculation of a non-syncytium-inducing/SI phenotypically mixed human immunodeficiency virus population.

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  • Research Article
  • Biology


Two distinct biological phenotypes of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have been described: the non-syncytium-inducing (NSI) phenotype, best characterized by the inability to infect MT-2 cells, and the syncytium-inducing (SI) phenotype, with the ability to infect MT-2 cells. The earliest virus population observed following HIV transmission is generally of the NSI phenotype, even after exposure to inocula of mixed NSI/SI phenotype. In this study, the issue of intrapatient selection of virus phenotype following transmission was addressed by studying two cases of accidental transmission. A comparison of the sequences of the V1-V2 and the V3 coding regions of the envelope gene and the p17 region of the gag gene showed that the donor-recipient pairs were tightly clustered in all gene segments, but away from local and published transmission controls. The intrasample variation of the p17 sequence was greater in the recipients and smaller in the donors than that of the V3 region sequence, indicating selection of V3 at transmission. In these transmission cases, the effects of an intravenous inoculation of a small quantity of blood containing predominantly SI V3 sequences (6 of 8 clonal sequences) were compared with those of an intramuscular inoculation of a large quantity of blood containing predominantly NSI viruses (14 of 16 clonal sequences). Both SI and NSI V3 regions were demonstrated to be phenotypic expressions of genetically related viral strains. The inoculation of the predominantly SI virus population resulted in the persistence of an SI virus population in the recipient and a rapid CD4+ T-cell decline. The inoculation of the predominantly NSI population resulted in a selective amplification of SI viruses before seroconversion, followed by a suppression of SI viruses at seroconversion and a rapid decline of CD4+ T-cell numbers. These data suggest that the suppression of SI viruses can be accomplished following the development of HIV-specific immunity and that the ability to suppress SI viruses does not prevent the development of immunodeficiency.

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