An association between HIV-1 subtypes and mode of transmission in Cape Town, South Africa

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Objectives:To determine HIV-1 env and gag subtypes in male homosexual and heterosexual populations in Cape Town, South Africa.Design:DNA was isolated from blood originating from 61 patients attending local clinics. Samples were divided according to presumed mode of transmission: male homosexual (n = 26), heterosexual/vertical (n = 32), blood transfusion (n = 1) and unknown (n = 2).Methods:Proviral HIV-1 DNA was subtyped by heteroduplex mobility assay (HMA) based on the 700 base-pair V3-V5 region of the env gene (n = 47) or by sequence analysis of the p17 region of the gag gene (n = 33), or both. For HMA, reference plasmids were constructed containing the V1-V5 env region sequences (1.2-kb) representative of local subtypes. Subtype designation of reference subtypes was confirmed by sequence analysis of the V3-loop region.Results:Analysis of the partial gag sequences and HMA of the V3-V5 env region identified three subtypes: B, C and D. A fourth env subtype, subtype E, was also identified by HMA. Subtypes were found to segregate according to mode of transmission, with subtype B viruses found in 96% (25 out of 26) of the male homosexual group and subtype C viruses found in 81% (26 out of 32) of the heterosexual/vertical transmission group. Subtype B viruses were also found in four heterosexual patients, one patient infected by blood transfusion and in two patients with unknown mode of transmission. Subtype D viruses were found in one male homosexual patient and one heterosexual patient. A subtype E virus was identified in a heterosexual patient. No discrepancy was found in subtype designation in samples analysed in both between the gag and env regions (n = 19).Conclusions:Subtype B viruses were associated with male homosexual transmission and subtype C viruses with heterosexual transmission, suggesting two independent epidemics. This data may have implications in the selection of appropriate vaccines for different risk groups in the country.

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