Deep gene sequence cluster analyses of multi-virus-infected mucosal tissue reveal enhanced transmission of acute HIV-1

Katja Klein*, Immaculate Nankya, Gabrielle Nickel, Annette N. Ratcliff, Adam A.J. Meadows, Nicholas Hathaway, Jeffrey A. Bailey, Daniel J. Stieh, Hannah M. Cheeseman, Ann M. Carias, Michael A. Lobritz, Jamie F.S. Mann, Yong Gao, Thomas J. Hope, Robin J. Shattock, Eric J. Arts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Exposure of the genital mucosa to a genetically diverse viral swarm from the donor HIV-1 can result in breakthrough and systemic infection by a single transmitted/founder (TF) virus in the recipient. The highly diverse HIV-1 envelope (Env) in this inoculating viral swarm may have a critical role in transmission and subsequent immune response. Thus, chronic (Envchronic) and acute (Envacute) Env chimeric HIV-1 were tested using multivirus competition assays in human mucosal penile and cervical tissues. Viral competition analysis revealed that Envchronic viruses resided and replicated mainly in the tissue, while Envacute viruses penetrated the human tissue and established infection of CD41 T cells more efficiently. Analysis of the replication fitness, as tested in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), showed similar replication fitness of Envacute and Envchronic viruses, which did not correlate with transmission fitness in penile tissue. Further, we observed that chimeric Env viruses with higher replication in genital mucosal tissue (chronic Env viruses) had higher binding affinity to C-type lectins. Data presented herein suggest that the inoculating HIV-1 may be sequestered in the genital mucosal tissue (represented by chronic Env HIV-1) but that a single HIV-1 clone (e.g., acute Env HIV-1) can escape this trapped replication for systemic infection. IMPORTANCE During heterosexual HIV-1 transmission, a genetic bottleneck occurs in the newly infected individual as the virus passes from the mucosa, leading to systemic infection with a single transmitted HIV-1 clone in the recipient. This bottleneck in the recipient has just been described (K. Klein et al., PLoS Pathog 14:e1006754,, and the mechanisms involved in this selection process have not been elucidated. However, understanding mucosal restriction is of the utmost importance for understanding dynamics of infections and for designing focused vaccines. Using our human penile and cervical mucosal tissue models for mixed HIV infections, we provide evidence that HIV-1 from acute/early infection, compared to that from chronic infection, can more efficiently traverse the mucosal epithelium and be transmitted to T cells, suggesting higher transmission fitness. This study focused on the role of the HIV-1 envelope in transmission and provides strong evidence that HIV transmission may involve breaking the mucosal lectin trap.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01737
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Fitness
  • HIV
  • Transmission

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • Virology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology


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