Dynamics of Viral Replication in Infants with Vertically Acquired Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Infection

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About one-third of vertically HIV-1 infected infants develop AIDS within the first months of life; the remainder show slower disease progression. We investigated the relationship between the pattern of HIV-1 replication early in life and disease outcome in eleven infected infants sequentially studied from birth. Viral load in cells and plasma was measured by highly sensitive competitive PCR-based methods.Although all infants showed an increase in the indices of viral replication within their first weeks of life, three distinct patterns emerged: (a) a rapid increase in plasma viral RNA and cell-associated proviral DNA during the first 4-6 wk, reaching high steady state levels (more than 1,000 HIV-1 copies/105 PBMC and more than 1,000,000 RNA copies/ml plasma) within 2-3 mo of age; (b) a similar initial rapid increase in viral load, followed by a 2.5-50-fold decline in viral levels; (c) a significantly lower (more than 10-fold) viral increase during the first 4-6 wk of age. All infants displaying the first pattern developed early AIDS, while infants with slower clinical progression exhibited the second or third pattern.These findings demonstrate that the pattern of viral replication and clearance in the first 2-3 mo of life is strictly correlated with, and predictive of disease evolution in vertically infected infants. (J. Clin. Invest. 1996. 97:323-330.) Key words: vertical infection centered dot pediatric AIDS centered dot HIV-1 replication centered dot primary infection centered dot competitive PCR

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