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J Virol. Sep 1994; 68(9): 5991–6005.
PMCID: PMC237004

In vivo distribution and cytopathology of variants of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 showing restricted sequence variability in the V3 loop.

Abstract

The distribution, cell tropism, and cytopathology in vivo of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was investigated in postmortem tissue samples from a series of HIV-infected individuals who died either of complications associated with AIDS or for unrelated reasons while they were asymptomatic. Proviral sequences were detected at a high copy number in lymphoid tissue of both presymptomatic patients and patients with AIDS, whereas significant infection of nonlymphoid tissue such as that from brains, spinal cords, and lungs were confined to those with AIDS. V3 loop sequences from both groups showed highly restricted sequence variability and a low overall positive charge of the encoded amino acid sequence compared with those of standard laboratory isolates of HIV type 1 (HIV-1). The low charge and the restriction in sequence variability were comparable to those observed with isolates showing a non-syncytium-inducing (NSI) and macrophage-tropic phenotype in vitro. All patients were either exclusively infected (six of seven cases) or predominantly infected (one case) with variants with a predicted NSI/macrophage-tropic phenotype, irrespective of the degree of disease progression. p24 antigen was detected by immunocytochemical staining of paraffin-fixed sections in the germinal centers within lymphoid tissue, although little or no antigen was found in areas of lymph node or spleen containing T lymphocytes from either presymptomatic patients or patients with AIDS. The predominant p24 antigen-expressing cells in the lungs and brains of the patients with AIDS were macrophages and microglia (in brains), frequently forming multinucleated giant cells (syncytia) even though the V3 loop sequences of these variants resembled those of NSI isolates in vitro. These studies indicate that lack of syncytium-forming ability in established T-cell lines does not necessarily predict syncytium-forming ability in primary target cells in vivo. Furthermore, variants of HIV with V3 sequences characteristic of NSI/macrophage-tropic isolates form the predominant population in a range of lymphoid and nonlymphoid tissues in vivo, even in patients with AIDS.

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