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J Virol. 2019 May 1;93(10). pii: e00311-19. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00311-19. Print 2019 May 15.

Evidence for both Intermittent and Persistent Compartmentalization of HIV-1 in the Female Genital Tract.

Author information

Centre for HIV and STIs, National Institute for Communicable Diseases of the National Health Laboratory Service, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
South African MRC Bioinformatics Capacity Development Unit, South African National Bioinformatics Institute, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa.
Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.
Sequencing Core Facility, National Institute for Communicable Diseases of the National Health Laboratory Service, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
National Health Laboratory Service, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Centre for HIV and STIs, National Institute for Communicable Diseases of the National Health Laboratory Service, Johannesburg, South Africa
Contributed equally


HIV-1 has been shown to evolve independently in different anatomical compartments, but studies in the female genital tract have been inconclusive. Here, we examined evidence of compartmentalization using HIV-1 subtype C envelope (Env) glycoprotein genes (gp160) obtained from matched cervicovaginal lavage (CVL) and plasma samples over 2 to 3 years of infection. HIV-1 gp160 amplification from CVL was achieved for only 4 of 18 acutely infected women, and this was associated with the presence of proinflammatory cytokines and/or measurable viremia in the CVL. Maximum likelihood trees and divergence analyses showed that all four individuals had monophyletic compartment-specific clusters of CVL- and/or plasma-derived gp160 sequences at all or some time points. However, two participants (CAP177 and CAP217) had CVL gp160 diversity patterns that differed from those in plasma and showed restricted viral flow from the CVL. Statistical tests of compartmentalization revealed evidence of persistent compartment-specific gp160 evolution in CAP177, while in CAP217 this was intermittent. Lastly, we identified several Env sites that distinguished viruses in these two compartments; for CAP177, amino acid differences arose largely through positive selection, while insertions/deletions were more common in CAP217. In both cases these differences contributed to substantial charge changes spread across the Env. Our data indicate that, in some women, HIV-1 populations within the genital tract can have Env genetic features that differ from those of viruses in plasma, which could impact the sensitivity of viruses in the genital tract to vaginal microbicides and vaccine-elicited antibodies.IMPORTANCE Most HIV-1 infections in sub-Saharan Africa are acquired heterosexually through the genital mucosa. Understanding the properties of viruses replicating in the female genital tract, and whether these properties differ from those of more commonly studied viruses replicating in the blood, is therefore important. Using longitudinal CVL and plasma-derived sequences from four HIV-1 subtype C-infected women, we found fewer viral migrations from the genital tract to plasma than in the opposite direction, suggesting a mucosal sieve effect from the genital tract to the blood compartment. Evidence for both persistent and intermittent compartmentalization between the genital tract and plasma viruses during chronic infection was detected in two of four individuals, perhaps explaining previously conflicting findings. In cases where compartmentalization occurred, comparison of CVL- and plasma-derived HIV sequences indicated that distinct features of viral populations in the CVL may affect the efficacy of microbicides and vaccines designed to provide mucosal immunity.


compartmentalization; cytokines; evolution; genital tract immunity; human immunodeficiency virus; phylogenetic analysis

[Available on 2019-11-01]

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