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Timing and source of subtype-C HIV-1 superinfection in the newly infected partner of Zambian couples with disparate viruses

Colleen S Kraft1, Debby Basu1, Paulina A Hawkins1, Peter T Hraber2, Elwyn Chomba3, Joseph Mulenga3, William Kilembe3, Naw H Khu4, Cynthia A Derdeyn1, Susan A Allen345, Olivier Manigart4 and Eric Hunter1*

Author Affiliations

1 Emory Vaccine Center at Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA

2 Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, USA

3 Zambia Emory HIV Research Project, ZEHRP, Lusaka, Zambia

4 Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA

5 Projet San Francisco, Rwanda Zambia HIV Research Group, RZHRG, Kigali, Rwanda

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Retrovirology 2012, 9:22  doi:10.1186/1742-4690-9-22

Published: 20 March 2012

Abstract

Background

HIV-1 superinfection occurs at varying frequencies in different at risk populations. Though seroincidence is decreased, in the negative partner of HIV-discordant couples after joint testing and counseling in the Zambia Emory HIV Research Project (ZEHRP) cohort, the annual infection rate remains relatively high at 7-8%. Based on sequencing within the gp41 region of each partner's virus, 24% of new infections between 2004 and 2008 were the result of transmission from a non-spousal partner. Since these seroconvertors and their spouses have disparate epidemiologically-unlinked viruses, there is a risk of superinfection within the marriage. We have, therefore, investigated the incidence and viral origin of superinfection in these couples.

Results

Superinfection was detected by heteroduplex mobility assay (HMA), degenerate base counting of the gp41 sequence, or by phylogenetic analysis of the longitudinal sequences. It was confirmed by full-length env single genome amplification and phylogenetic analysis. In 22 couples (44 individuals), followed for up to five years, three of the newly infected (initially HIV uninfected) partners became superinfected. In each case superinfection occurred during the first 12 months following initial infection of the negative partner, and in each case the superinfecting virus was derived from a non-spousal partner. In addition, one probable case of intra-couple HIV-1 superinfection was observed in a chronically infected partner at the time of his seroconverting spouse's initial viremia. Extensive recombination within the env gene was observed following superinfection.

Conclusions

In this subtype-C discordant couple cohort, superinfection, during the first year after HIV-1 infection of the previously negative partner, occurred at a rate similar to primary infection (13.6% [95% CI 5.2-34.8] vs 7.8% [7.1-8.6]). While limited intra-couple superinfection may in part reflect continued condom usage within couples, this and our lack of detecting newly superinfected individuals after one year of primary infection raise the possibility that immunological resistance to intra-subtype superinfection may develop over time in subtype C infected individuals.