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J Virol. 2009 Jun;83(11):5592-605. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02051-08. Epub 2009 Mar 18.

CCR5- and CXCR4-tropic subtype C human immunodeficiency virus type 1 isolates have a lower level of pathogenic fitness than other dominant group M subtypes: implications for the epidemic.

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


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) subtype C is the dominant subtype globally, due largely to the incidence of subtype C infections in sub-Saharan Africa and east Asia. We compared the relative replicative fitness (ex vivo) of the major (M) group of HIV-1 subtypes A, B, C, D, and CRF01_AE and group O isolates. To estimate pathogenic fitness, pairwise competitions were performed between CCR5-tropic (R5) or CXCR4-tropic (X4) virus isolates in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). A general fitness order was observed among 33 HIV-1 isolates; subtype B and D HIV-1 isolates were slightly more fit than the subtype A and dramatically more fit than the 12 subtype C isolates. All group M isolates were more fit (ex vivo) than the group O isolates. To estimate ex vivo transmission fitness, a subset of primary HIV-1 isolates were examined in primary human explants from penile, cervical, and rectal tissues. Only R5 isolates and no X4 HIV-1 isolates could replicate in these tissues, whereas the spread to PM1 cells was dependent on active replication and passive virus transfer. In tissue competition experiments, subtype C isolates could compete with and, in some cases, even win over subtype A and D isolates. However, when the migratory cells from infected tissues were mixed with a susceptible cell line, the subtype C isolates were outcompeted by other subtypes, as observed in experiments with PBMC. These findings suggest that subtype C HIV-1 isolates might have equal transmission fitness but reduced pathogenic fitness relative to other group M HIV-1 isolates.

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