The role of APOBEC3G in acute and early HIV-1 subtype C infection.
Introduction APOBEC3G and other related cellular cytosine deaminase family members have potent antiviral activity. In the absence of HIV-1 Vif, APOBEC3G mutates the viral DNA during viral reverse transcription. Our knowledge of the Vif-APOBEC3G interaction in human populations infected with subtype C HIV-1 is limited. Investigation of interactions between HIV and its host is crucial as it can ultimately be exploited in vaccine and therapy design. We hypothesised that certain APOBEC3G haplotypes and/or their expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of seroconverters affect viral setpoint and CD4+ T cell counts. We also hypothesised that certain APOBEC3G genetic variants are associated with increased frequency of G to A hypermutations during primary HIV-1 infection and that Vif variability influences disease progression and its ability to neutralise APOBEC3G haplotypes. Methods Our South African study cohort consisted of females at high risk for HIV-1 infection and women with known recent HIV-1 infection. We used quantitative real-time PCR to measure APOBEC3G expression in HIV- and HIV+ samples during primary infection. APOBEC3G variants were identified by DNA sequencing and TaqMan Genotyping. The HIV-1env gene was sequenced to assess Env diversity and the extent of APOBEC3G induced hypermutations. Vif variability was assessed by plasma derived clonal Vif sequences (n= 10-20 per patient) and Vif function was assessed by APOBEC3G degradation assays and HIV-1 infectivity assays. Results We found no correlation between APOBEC3G expression levels and plasma viral loads (r=0.053, p=0.596) or CD4+ T cell counts (r=0.030, p=0.762) in 32 seroconverters. However, APOBEC3G expression levels were significantly higher in HIV- individuals compared to HIV+ individuals (p<0.0001) including matched pre- and post-infection samples from the same individuals (n=13, p<0.0001). Twenty five single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were identified within the APOBEC3G region. SNP 186R/R was associated with significantly higher viral loads (p=0.0097) and decreased CD4+ T cell levels (p=0.0081), indicating that 186R/R has a negative effect on HIV restriction. Overall HIV-1 env sequences contained a higher number of APOBEC3F compared to APOBEC3G-induced hypermutations and the number of APOBEC3F-induced hypermutations correlated negatively with viral load (r= -0.6, p=0.006) and positively with CD4 T cell counts (r=0.6, p=0.004). We cloned and sequenced a total of 392 subtype C Vifs, which showed an interpatient diversity of 6.2% to 19.2% at the amino acid level. Interestingly, Vif sequence comparison showed a strong preference for a Lysine or a Serine at position 36 for APOBEC3G 186R/R and APOBEC3G 186H/H individuals, respectively. Selected natural subtype C Vif alleles had greater ability to counteract wild type APOBEC3G 186H as compared to the APOBEC3G 186R variant as shown by both functional and HIV infectivity assays. Conclusions In conclusion, APOBEC3G expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells does not correlate with viral loads or CD4+ T cell counts during primary HIV-1 subtype C infection. However, genetic variants of APOBEC3G may affect HIV-1 pathogenesis. Amino acid changes in Vif may influence its anti-APOBEC3 activity. HIV-1 subtype C Vifs may have adapted to counteract the more active wild type APOBEC3G as compared to the less active APOBEC3G 186R variant. These studies have improved our understanding of viral-host interactions in African populations and HIV-1 subtype C infections.