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We used ultra-deep sequencing to obtain tens of thousands of HIV-1 sequences from regions targeted by CD8+ T lymphocytes from longitudinal samples from three acutely infected subjects, and modeled viral evolution during the critical first weeks of infection. Previous studies suggested that a single virus established productive infection, but these conclusions were tempered because of limited sampling; now, we have greatly increased our confidence in this observation through modeling the observed earliest sample diversity based on vastly more extensive sampling. Conventional sequencing of HIV-1 from acute/early infection has shown different patterns of escape at different epitopes; we investigated the earliest escapes in exquisite detail. Over 3-6 weeks, ultradeep sequencing revealed that the virus explored an extraordinary array of potential escape routes in the process of evading the earliest CD8 T-lymphocyte responses--using 454 sequencing, we identified over 50 variant forms of each targeted epitope during early immune escape, while only 2-7 variants were detected in the same samples via conventional sequencing. In contrast to the diversity seen within epitopes, non-epitope regions, including the Envelope V3 region, which was sequenced as a control in each subject, displayed very low levels of variation. In early infection, in the regions sequenced, the consensus forms did not have a fitness advantage large enough to trigger reversion to consensus amino acids in the absence of immune pressure. In one subject, a genetic bottleneck was observed, with extensive diversity at the second time point narrowing to two dominant escape forms by the third time point, all within two months of infection. Traces of immune escape were observed in the earliest samples, suggesting that immune pressure is present and effective earlier than previously reported; quantifying the loss rate of the founder virus suggests a direct role for CD8 T-lymphocyte responses in viral containment after peak viremia. Dramatic shifts in the frequencies of epitope variants during the first weeks of infection revealed a complex interplay between viral fitness and immune escape.

Original publication

DOI

10.1371/journal.pone.0012303

Type

Journal article

Journal

PLoS One

Publication Date

20/08/2010

Volume

5

Keywords

Consensus Sequence, Epitopes, Evolution, Molecular, Genome, Viral, HIV Infections, HIV-1, Humans, Immune Evasion, Mutation, Selection, Genetic, Sequence Analysis, DNA, Time Factors