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J Virol. 2004 Jan;78(2):603-11.

Competitive fitness of nevirapine-resistant human immunodeficiency virus type 1 mutants.

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Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.


Determining the fitness of drug-resistant human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) strains is necessary for the development of population-based studies of resistance patterns. For this purpose, we have developed a reproducible, systematic assay to determine the competitive fitness of HIV-1 drug-resistant mutants. To demonstrate the applicability of this assay, we tested the fitness of the five most common nevirapine-resistant mutants (103N, 106A, 181C, 188C, and 190A), with mutations in HIV-1 reverse transcriptase (RT), singly and in combination (for a total of 31 variants) in a defined HIV-1 background. For these experiments, the 27 RT variants that produced viable virus were cocultured with wild-type virus without nevirapine. The ratios of the viral species were determined over time by utilization of a quantitative real-time RT-PCR-based assay. These experiments revealed that all of the viable variants were less fit than the wild type and demonstrated that the order of relative fitness of the single mutants tested was as follows: 103N > 181C > 190A > 188C > 106A. This order correlated with the commonality of these mutants as a result of nevirapine monotherapy. These investigations also revealed that, on average, the double mutants were less fit than the single mutants and the triple mutants were less fit than the double mutants. However, the fitness of the single and double mutants was often not predictive of the fitness of the derivative triple mutants, suggesting the presence of complex interactions between the closely aligned residues that confer nevirapine resistance. This complexity was also evident from the observation that all three of the replication-competent quadruple mutants were fitter than most of the triple mutants, and in some cases, even the double mutants. Our data suggest that, in many cases, viral fitness is the determining factor in the evolution of nevirapine-resistant mutants in vivo, that interactions between the residues that confer nevirapine resistance are complex, and that these interactions substantially affect reverse transcriptase structure and/or function.

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