Background: Recently there has been an increasing interest and appreciation for the gut as both a viral reservoir as well as an important host-pathogen interface in human immunodefiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection. The gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is the largest lymphoid organ infected by HIV-1. In this study we examined if different HIV-1 quasispecies are found in different parts of the gut of HIV-1 infected individuals.
Results: Gut biopsies (esophagus, stomach, duodenum and colorectum) were obtained from eight HIV-1 infected preHAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) patients. HIV-1 Nef and Reverse transcriptase (RT) encoding sequences were obtained through nested PCR amplification from DNA isolated from the gut biopsy tissues. The PCR fragments were cloned and sequenced. The resulting sequences were subjected to various phylogenetic analyses. Expression of the nef gene and viral RNA in the different gut tissues was determined using real-time RT-PCR. Phylogenetic analysis of the Nef protein-encoding region revealed compartmentalization of viral replication in the gut within patients. Viral diversity in both the Nef and RT encoding region varied in different parts of the gut. Moreover, increased nef gene expression (p < 0.05) and higher levels of viral genome were observed in the colorectum (p < 0.05). These differences could reflect an adaptation of HIV-1 to the various tissues.
Conclusion: Our results indicated that different HIV-1 quasispecies populate different parts of the gut, and that viral replication in the gut is compartmentalized. These observations underscore the importance of the gut as a host-pathogen interface in HIV-1 infection.