HIV transmission efficiency is greatly increased when viruses are transmitted at virological synapses formed between infected and uninfected cells. We have previously shown that virological synapses formed between HIV-pulsed mature dendritic cells (DCs) and uninfected T cells contain interdigitated membrane surfaces, with T cell filopodia extending toward virions sequestered deep inside invaginations formed on the DC membrane. To explore membrane structural changes relevant to HIV transmission across other types of intercellular conjugates, we used a combination of light and focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) to determine the three-dimensional (3D) architectures of contact regions between HIV-1-infected CD4(+) T cells and either uninfected human CD4(+) T cells or human fetal astrocytes. We present evidence that in each case, membrane extensions that originate from the uninfected cells, either as membrane sheets or filopodial bridges, are present and may be involved in HIV transmission from infected to uninfected cells. We show that individual virions are distributed along the length of astrocyte filopodia, suggesting that virus transfer to the astrocytes is mediated, at least in part, by processes originating from the astrocyte itself. Mechanisms that selectively disrupt the polarization and formation of such membrane extensions could thus represent a possible target for reducing viral spread.
Importance: Our findings lead to new insights into unique aspects of HIV transmission in the brain and at T cell-T cell synapses, which are thought to be a predominant mode of rapid HIV transmission early in the infection process.
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