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J Virol. 2007 Jan;81(2):1000-12. Epub 2006 Nov 1.

Inefficient human immunodeficiency virus replication in mobile lymphocytes.

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  • 1Groupe Virus et Immunité, URA CNRS 1930, Institut Pasteur, 28 rue du Dr. Roux, 75724 Paris Cedex 15, France.


Cell-to-cell viral transfer facilitates the spread of lymphotropic retroviruses such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and human T-cell leukemia virus (HTLV), likely through the formation of "virological synapses" between donor and target cells. Regarding HIV replication, the importance of cell contacts has been demonstrated, but this phenomenon remains only partly characterized. In order to alter cell-to-cell HIV transmission, we have maintained cultures under continuous gentle shaking and followed viral replication in this experimental system. In lymphoid cell lines, as well as in primary lymphocytes, viral replication was dramatically reduced in shaken cultures. To document this phenomenon, we have developed an assay to assess the relative contributions of free and cell-associated virions in HIV propagation. Acutely infected donor cells were mixed with carboxyfluorescein diacetate succinimidyl ester-labeled lymphocytes as targets, and viral production was followed by measuring HIV Gag expression at different time points by flow cytometry. We report that cellular contacts drastically enhance productive viral transfer compared to what is seen with infection with free virus. Productive cell-to-cell viral transmission required fusogenic viral envelope glycoproteins on donor cells and adequate receptors on targets. Only a few syncytia were observed in this coculture system. Virus release from donor cells was unaffected when cultures were gently shaken, whereas virus transfer to recipient cells was severely impaired. Altogether, these results indicate that cell-to-cell transfer is the predominant mode of HIV spread and help to explain why this virus replicates so efficiently in lymphoid organs.

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