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AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2013 Mar;29(3):511-5. doi: 10.1089/AID.2012.0197. Epub 2013 Jan 18.

Short communication: HIV type 1 subtype C variants transmitted through the bottleneck of breastfeeding are sensitive to new generation broadly neutralizing antibodies directed against quaternary and CD4-binding site epitopes.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7295, USA.


Mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 subtype C can occur in utero, intrapartum, or via breast milk exposure. While not well understood, there are putative differences in the mechanisms involved with the distinct routes of vertical HIV transmission. Here, we address the question of whether specific viral characteristics are common to variants transmitted through breastfeeding that may facilitate evasion of innate or adaptive immune responses. We amplified the envelope gene (env) from the plasma of six infants during acute infection who were infected with HIV-1 subtype C through breastfeeding, and from three available matched maternal samples. We sequenced the full-length env genes in these subjects revealing heterogeneous viral populations in the mothers and homogeneous populations in the infants. In five infants, the viral population arose from a single variant, while two variants were detected in the remaining infant. Infant env sequences had fewer N-linked glycosylation sites and shorter sequences than those of the available matched maternal samples. Though the small size of the study precluded our ability to test statistical significance, these results are consistent with selection for virus with shorter variable loops and fewer glycosylation sites during transmission of HIV-1 subtype C in other settings. Transmitted envs were resistant to neutralization by antibodies 2G12 and 2F5, but were generally sensitive to the more broadly neutralizing PG9, PG16, and VRC01, indicating that this new generation of broadly neutralizing monoclonal antibodies could be efficacious in passive immunization strategies.

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