Evolution of the HIV-1 V3 loop was monitored in 15 subjects over a period of 5 years at ∼6-month intervals. Putative recombination was detected in many of the sequences. Evolutionary trees were estimated from the nonrecombinant viral sequences found in each individual. Selection and altered demographic regimes were detected with logit and other contingency analyses in a highly context-dependent fashion. Mutations leading to amino acid substitutions are subject to positive selection over a broad range of clinical conditions in the nonsyncytium-inducing (NSI) form, and the growth rates of the NSI strains and their level of genetic subdivision change little in going from a healthy immune system to a severely compromised immune system. In contrast, the SI form has a significant increase in growth rate as the immune system goes from healthy to compromised, particularly in those subjects who did not receive any antiviral drug therapy. This increase in SI growth rate results in a significant growth advantage of SI over NSI when the immune system is compromised. The SI strains also show more demographic subdivision when the immune system is healthy than when the immune system is compromised, and the SI form has greater demographic subdivision than NSI in subjects with healthy immune systems who also are not receiving antiviral drug therapy. Positive selection on amino-acid-changing mutations weakens and then intensifies again in the SI strains in going from healthy to compromised immune systems. These patterns are consistent with other studies that suggest that NSI strains inhibit replication of SI strains, that the V3 loop is more hidden from the immune system in the NSI form, that evolution in the V3 loop influences cell tropism and coreceptor usage, that substrate for replication of SI forms increases as the disease progresses, and that death of CD8 cells is influenced by the type of coreceptor usage typically found in SI but not in NSI strains. Finally, the transition between NSI and SI forms is associated with a burst of evolutionary change due to strong positive selection at sites other than those that define the NSI/SI phenotypes.
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