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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Mar 23;101(12):4204-9. Epub 2004 Mar 9.

Dynamics of HIV-1 recombination in its natural target cells.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 848 Kaul Building, 720 20th Street South, Birmingham, AL 35294-0024, USA.

Erratum in

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Feb 1;102(5):1808.


Genetic recombination is believed to assist HIV-1 diversification and escape from host immunity and antiviral therapies, yet this process remains largely unexamined within the natural target-cell populations. We developed a method for measuring HIV-1 recombination directly that employs reporter viruses bearing functional enhanced yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) and enhanced cyan fluorescent protein (CFP) genes in which recombination produces a modified GFP gene and GFP fluorescence in the infected cells. These reporter viruses allow simultaneous quantification of the dynamics of HIV-1 infection, coinfection, and recombination in cell culture and in animal models by flow-cytometric analysis. Multiround infection assays revealed that productive cellular coinfection was subject to little functional inhibition. As a result, generation of recombinants proceeded according to the square of the infection rate during HIV-1 replication in T lymphocytes and within human thymic grafts in severe combined immunodeficient (SCID)-hu (Thy/Liv) mice. These results suggest that increases in viral load may confer a compounding risk of virus escape by means of recombinational diversification. A single round of replication in T lymphocytes in culture generated an average of nine recombination events per virus, and infection of macrophages led to approximately 30 crossover events, making HIV-1 up to an order of magnitude more recombinogenic than recognized previously and demonstrating that the infected cell exerts a profound influence on the frequency of recombination.

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