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J Virol. 2002 Dec;76(23):11953-9.

Virus population homogenization following acute human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.


Understanding the properties of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) variants capable of establishing infection is critical to the development of a vaccine against AIDS. Previous studies of men have shown that the HIV-1 env gene is homogeneous early in infection, leading to the suggestion that infection is established by a single transmitted variant. However, we report here that all of eight homosexual men evaluated beginning 3.7 to 9 weeks following onset of symptoms of acute infection harbored diverse virus populations in their blood, with median genetic distances averaging 1.08% in the env C2V5 region and 0.81% in the gag p17 gene. Within another 4.7 to 11 weeks, the variant lineage in env became more homogeneous, while gag sequences continued to diversify. Thus, the homogenization that has been reported to characterize acute infection is actually preceded by the replication of multiple virus variants. This early selective process focuses on viral properties within Env but not Gag p17. Hence, the viral homogeneity observed early in HIV-1 infection results from a selective process that occurs during the establishment of infection.

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