Mullins Molecular Retrovirology Lab

  • Department of Microbiology
  • School of Medicine
  • University of Washington
University of Washington/Fred Hutch Center for AIDS Research

Citation Information

Liu Y, Woodward A, Zhu H, Andrus T, McNevin J, Lee J, Mullins JI, Corey L, McElrath MJ, Zhu T (2009). Preinfection human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes failed to prevent HIV type 1 infection from strains genetically unrelated to viruses in long-term exposed partners. Journal of virology, 83(20), 10821-9. (pubmed) (doi)


Understanding the mechanisms underlying potential altered susceptibility to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection in highly exposed seronegative (ES) individuals and the later clinical consequences of breakthrough infection can provide insight into strategies to control HIV-1 with an effective vaccine. From our Seattle ES cohort, we identified one individual (LSC63) who seroconverted after over 2 years of repeated unprotected sexual contact with his HIV-1-infected partner (P63) and other sexual partners of unknown HIV-1 serostatus. The HIV-1 variants infecting LSC63 were genetically unrelated to those sequenced from P63. This may not be surprising, since viral load measurements in P63 were repeatedly below 50 copies/ml, making him an unlikely transmitter. However, broad HIV-1-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) responses were detected in LSC63 before seroconversion. Compared to those detected after seroconversion, these responses were of lower magnitude and half of them targeted different regions of the viral proteome. Strong HLA-B27-restricted CTLs, which have been associated with disease control, were detected in LSC63 after but not before seroconversion. Furthermore, for the majority of the protein-coding regions of the HIV-1 variants in LSC63 (except gp41, nef, and the 3' half of pol), the genetic distances between the infecting viruses and the viruses to which he was exposed through P63 (termed the exposed virus) were comparable to the distances between random subtype B HIV-1 sequences and the exposed viruses. These results suggest that broad preinfection immune responses were not able to prevent the acquisition of HIV-1 infection in LSC63, even though the infecting viruses were not particularly distant from the viruses that may have elicited these responses.