DNA coding for the principal neutralization epitope of HIV-1 (the V3 domain of the envelope glycoprotein gp120) was amplified by polymerase chain reaction from postmortem brain and spleen tissue of three perinatally infected children who died of AIDS with progressive encephalopathy. Sequences obtained directly (without cloning) from this DNA were compared with sequences of 52 molecular clones made from this DNA. Cluster analysis showed that V3 domain sequences from two of the three children were similar to sequences from the American MN/SC isolates, while those from one child were more closely similar to the Caribbean RF isolate. Comparison of sequences obtained directly with consensus sequences derived from cloned DNA showed that V3 sequences are characteristic for an individual host. In one child, the V3 sequence determined directly from brain DNA was very distant from the consensus brain clone sequence and from the spleen sequences, suggesting a diverging quasispecies distribution. Site-directed hybridization demonstrated that brain-specific sequences present in 33% of brain-derived clones were absent from clones derived from spleen. The evidence suggests that brain- and spleen-specific variants evolve independently within each host-delimited quasispecies.
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