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J Clin Microbiol. 2001 May;39(5):1895-902.

One-tube real-time isothermal amplification assay to identify and distinguish human immunodeficiency virus type 1 subtypes A, B, and C and circulating recombinant forms AE and AG.

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Department of Human Retrovirology, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 15, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


To halt the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) epidemic requires interventions that can prevent transmission of numerous HIV-1 subtypes. The most frequently transmitted viruses belong to the subtypes A, B, and C and the circulating recombinant forms (CRFs) AE and AG. A fast one-tube assay that identifies and distinguishes among subtypes A, B, and C and CRFs AE and AG of HIV-1 was developed. The assay amplifies a part of the gag gene sequence of the genome of all currently known HIV-1 subtypes and can identify and distinguish among the targeted subtypes as the reaction proceeds, because of the addition of subtype-specific molecular beacons with multiple fluorophores. The combination of isothermal nucleic acid sequence-based amplification and molecular beacons is a new approach in the design of real-time assays. To obtain a sufficiently specific assay, we developed a new strategy in the design of molecular beacons, purposely introducing mismatches in the molecular beacons. The subtype A and CRF AG isolates reacted with the same molecular beacon. We tested the specificity and sensitivity of the assay on a panel of the culture supernatant of 34 viruses encompassing all HIV-1 subtypes: subtypes A through G, CRF AE and AG, a group O isolate, and a group N isolate. Assay sensitivity on this panel was 92%, with 89% correct subtype identification relative to sequence analysis. A linear relationship was found between the amount of input RNA in the reaction mixture and the time that the reaction became positive. The lower detection level of the assay was approximately 10(3) copies of HIV-1 RNA per reaction. In 38% of 50 serum samples from HIV-1-infected individuals with a detectable amount of virus, we could identify subtype sequences with a specificity of 94% by using sequencing and phylogenetic analysis as the "gold standard." In conclusion, we showed the feasibility of the approach of using multiple molecular beacons labeled with different fluorophores in combination with isothermal amplification to identify and distinguish subtypes A, B, and C and CRFs AE and AG of HIV-1. Because of the low sensitivity, the assay in this format would not be suited for clinical use but can possibly be used for epidemiological monitoring as well as vaccine research studies.

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