HIV-1 subtypes: epidemiology and significance for HIV management

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Abstract

Purpose of review

This review presents an update on the molecular epidemic patterns of HIV-1 infection and the effects of subtype-related genetic variability on transmission, disease progression, response to antiretroviral therapy and drug-resistance pathways.

Recent findings

The molecular epidemiology of HIV-1 infection is complex and evolving. The emergence of new variants reflects HIV-1 prevalence, subtype epidemiology and risk-behaviour patterns in different geographical areas. Evidence indicates that certain subtypes may have a transmission advantage while others display higher replicative efficiency. The molecular mechanisms underlying these differences are being identified and include both virus- and host-related factors. Although drug susceptibility varies and clinical evidence remains limited, current antiretroviral regimens appear to have comparable efficacy in patients infected with B and non-B subtypes. Subtype-related variability influences resistance pathways. However, the major treatment-associated resistance mutations seen in subtype B also confer resistance in non-B subtypes and vice versa.

Summary

Genetic differences among HIV-1 variants can influence the virus biological properties, susceptibility to existing and candidate antiretroviral drugs, and evolution of antiretroviral drug resistance. Further studies are required to define the impact of this variability on risk of transmission, disease outcomes, responses to antiretroviral therapy and resistance pathways. Meanwhile, plasma viral load and CD4 count remain the important predictors of disease outcome, regardless of the infecting subtype. Current antiretroviral regimens can be used reliably to treat patients with both B and non-B subtypes, and resistance interpretation algorithms provide adequate guidance. The limitations of current evidence should be acknowledged and instigate ongoing vigilance.

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