Genetic diversity of HIV-1 in western Kenya: subtype-specific differences in mother-to-child transmission

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Little is known about the impact of HIV-1 group M subtypes on mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV-1 in African settings where multiple HIV-1 group M subtypes are co-circulating.


To assess the role of subtype variation on MTCT.


HIV-1-infected women attending an antenatal clinic in western Kenya were enrolled for a prospective study (1996–2000) of MTCT. HIV-1 subtype analysis of p24gag and gp41env identified potential recombinants, and their role in MTCT was determined.


Among 414 women for whom HIV-1 subtype and HIV transmission status were available, MTCT occurred in 80 (19.3%). MTCT rates were higher among women with subtype D compared with subtype A in either the gp41 region [31.6 versus 16.1%, relative risk (RR) 2.0, P = 0.002] or p24 region (29.9 versus 18.0%, RR 1.7, P = 0.02). Discordant subtype combinations were identified in 103 of the women (25.9%), and were associated with higher rates of MTCT (28.2 versus 17.0%, RR 1.7, P = 0.01). In multivariate analysis, women with subtype combinations D/D, D/A, and A/D had an increased risk of MTCT (adjusted odds ratios 3.5, 2.5, 6.2; P = 0.005, 0.05, and 0.0003, respectively) compared with A/A women after adjustment for maternal HIV viral load, placental malaria infection, episiotomy or perineal tear, and low birthweight.


MTCT appears to be more common among mothers infected with subtype D compared with subtype A. Such differences in MTCT frequency may be caused by altered cellular tropism for placental cell types.

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