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ABSTRACT Escape from cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses toward HIV-1 Gag and Nef has been associated with reduced control of HIV-1 replication in adults. However, less is known about CTL-driven immune selection in infants as longitudinal studies of infants are limited. Here, 1,210 gag and 1,264 nef sequences longitudinally collected within 15 months after birth from 14 HIV-1 perinatally infected infants and their mothers were analyzed. The number of transmitted founder (T/F) viruses and associations between virus evolution, selection, CTL escape, and disease progression were determined. The analyses indicated that a paraphyletic-monophyletic relationship between the mother-infant sequences was common (80%), and that the HIV-1 infection was established by a single T/F virus in 10 of the 12 analyzed infants (83%). Furthermore, most HIV-1 CTL escape mutations among infants were transmitted from the mothers and did not revert during the first year of infection. Still, immune-driven selection was observed at approximately 3 months after HIV-1 infection in infants. Moreover, virus populations with CTL escape mutations in gag evolved faster than those without, independently of disease progression rate. These findings expand the current knowledge of HIV-1 transmission, evolution, and CTL escape in infant HIV-1 infection and are relevant for the development of immune-directed interventions in infants. IMPORTANCE Despite increased coverage in antiretroviral therapy for the prevention of perinatal transmission, paediatric HIV-1 infection remains a significant public health concern, especially in areas of high HIV-1 prevalence. Understanding HIV-1 transmission and the subsequent virus adaptation from the mother to the infant’s host environment, as well as the viral factors that affect disease outcome, is important for the development of early immune-directed interventions for infants. This study advances our understanding of vertical HIV-1 transmission, and how infant immune selection pressure is shaping the intra-host evolutionary dynamics of HIV-1.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Virology


American Society for Microbiology

Publication Date