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J Virol. 2003 Jan;77(2):1021-38.

Comparing the ex vivo fitness of CCR5-tropic human immunodeficiency virus type 1 isolates of subtypes B and C.

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Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106, USA.


Continual human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) evolution and expansion within the human population have led to unequal distribution of HIV-1 group M subtypes. In particular, recent outgrowth of subtype C in southern Africa, India, and China has fueled speculation that subtype C isolates may be more fit in vivo. In this study, nine subtype B and six subtype C HIV-1 isolates were added to peripheral blood mononuclear cell cultures for a complete pairwise competition experiment. All subtype C HIV-1 isolates were less fit than subtype B isolates (P < 0.0001), but intrasubtype variations in HIV-1 fitness were not significant. Increased fitness of subtype B over subtype C was also observed in primary CD4(+) T cells and macrophages from different human donors but not in skin-derived human Langerhans cells. Detailed analysis of the retroviral life cycle during several B and C virus competitions indicated that the efficiency of host cell entry may have a significant impact on relative fitness. Furthermore, phyletic analyses of fitness differences suggested that, for a recombined subtype B/C HIV-1 isolate, higher fitness mapped to the subtype B env gene rather than the subtype C gag and pol genes. These results suggest that subtype B and C HIV-1 may be transmitted with equal efficiency (Langerhans cell data) but that subtype C isolates may be less fit following initial infection (T-cell and macrophage data) and may lead to slower disease progression.

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