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J Virol. 2003 Jun;77(12):6811-22.

Turnover of env variable region 1 and 2 genotypes in subjects with late-stage human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection.

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  • 1UNC Center for AIDS Research and Curriculum of Genetics and Molecular Biology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 27599-7295, USA.


The env gene of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) includes some of the most genetically diverse regions of the viral genome, which are called variable regions 1 through 5 (V1 through V5). We have developed a heteroduplex tracking assay to detect changes in variable regions 1 and 2 of env (V1/V2-HTA). Using sequences from two molecular clones as probes, we have studied the nature of longitudinal virus population changes in a cohort of HIV-1-infected subjects. Viral sequences present in 21 subjects with late-stage HIV-1 infection were initially screened for stability of the virus population by V1/V2-HTA. The virus populations at entry comprised an average of five coexisting V1/V2 genotypic variants (as identified by HTA). Eight of the 21 subjects were examined in detail because of the dynamic behavior of their env variants over an approximately 9-month period. In each of these cases we detected a single discrete transition of V1/V2 genotypes based on monthly sampling. The major V1/V2 genotypes (those present at >10% abundance) from the eight subjects were cloned and sequenced to define the nature of V1/V2 variability associated with a discrete transition. Based on a comparison of V1/V2 genotypic variants present at entry with the newly emerged variants we categorized the newly emerged variants into two groups: variants without length differences and variants with length differences. Variants without length differences had fewer nucleotide substitutions, with the changes biased to either V1 or V2, suggestive of recent evolutionary events. Variants with length differences included ones with larger numbers of changes that were distributed, suggestive of recall of older genotypes. Most length differences were located in domains where the codon motif AVT (V = A, G, C) had become enriched and fixed. Finally, recombination events were detected in two subjects, one of which resulted in the reassortment of V1 and V2 regions. We suggest that turnover in V1/V2 populations was largely driven by selection on either V1 or V2 and that escape was accomplished either through changes focused in the region under selection or by the appearance of a highly divergent variant.

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