HIV-1 in genital tract and plasma of women: Compartmentalization of viral sequences, coreceptor usage, and glycosylation

Kimdar Sherefa Kemal, Brian Foley, Harold Burger, Kathryn Anastos, Howard Minkoff, Christina Kitchen, Sean M. Philpott, Wei Gao, Esther Robison, Susan Holman, Carolyn Dehner, Suzanne Beck, William A. Meyer, Alan Landay, Andrea Kovacs, James Bremer, Barbara Weiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Worldwide, 90% of HIV-1 infections are transmitted heterosexually. Because the genital mucosa are the sites of initial contact with HIV-1 for most exposed individuals, study of the virus from the genital tract is critical for the development of vaccines and therapeutics. Previous analyses of HIV-1 in various tissues have documented compartmentalization of viral genomes. Whether compartmentalization was associated with viral phenotypic differences or immune status, however, was not well understood. We compared HIV-1 gp120 env sequences from the genital tract and plasma of 12 women. Eight women displayed compartmentalized HIV-1 RNA genomes, with viral sequences from each site that were clearly discrete, yet phylogenetically related. The remaining four exhibited env sequences that were intermingled between the two sites. Women with compartmentalized HIV-1 genomes had higher CD4+ cell counts than those displaying intermingled strains (P = 0.02). Intrapatient HIV-1 recombinants comprising sequences that were characteristic of both sites were identified. We next compared viral phenotypes in each compartment. HIV-1 coreceptor usage was often compartmentalized (P≤0.01). The number of N-linked glycosylation sites, associated with neutralization resistance, also differed between compartments (P < 0.01). Furthermore, disparities between the density of gp120 glycosylations in each compartment correlated with higher CD4+ counts (P = 0.03). These data demonstrate that the genital tract and plasma can harbor populations of replicating HIV-1 with different phenotypes. The association of higher CD4+ cell counts with compartmentalization of viral genomes and density of gp120 glycosylations suggests that the immune response influences the development of viral genotypes in each compartment. These findings are relevant to the prevention and control of HIV-1 infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12972-12977
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - Oct 28 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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