Objective: We have previously demonstrated that detection of syncytium-inducing (SI) HIV-1 in asymptomatic seropositive individuals is associated with rapid progression to AIDS. In the present study, we sought to develop and evaluate an HIV-1 phenotyping assay for the screening of large numbers of individuals.
Methods: Efficiency of HIV-1 isolation from patient peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) was studied with donor PBMC or seven different CD4+ T-cell lines as target cells. The biological phenotype of sequential isolates from 20 long-term asymptomatic HIV-1-seropositive individuals was determined by two different assays.
Results: Non-SI isolates, efficiently recovered by cocultivation with donor PBMC, were never isolated with T-cell lines as target cells. Direct cocultivation with MT-2 cells, but not with six other CD4+ T-cells, resulted in the efficient recovery of SI isolates. HIV-1 MT-2 tropism and SI capacity were shown to be coupled properties at the clonal level. SI isolates emerged in 10 out of 20 longitudinally-studied individuals. In these long-term infected individuals, appearance of SI isolates was associated with progression to AIDS.
Conclusions: Direct cocultivation of patient PBMC with the MT-2 cell line is a sensitive, specific and convenient method to detect SI isolates. The availability of an assay suitable for the screening of large groups allows further study of the value of HIV-1 biological phenotyping as a prognostic marker.