Background: In developed countries, human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a major pathogen in congenitally infected and immunocompromised individuals, where multiple-strain infection appears linked to disease severity. The situation is less documented in developing countries. In Zambia, breast milk is a key route for transmitting HCMV and carries higher viral loads in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected women. We investigated HCMV strain diversity.
Methods: High-throughput sequence datasets were generated from 28 HCMV-positive breast milk samples donated by 22 mothers (15 HIV-infected and 7 HIV-negative) at 4-16 weeks postpartum, then analyzed by genome assembly and novel motif-based genotyping in 12 hypervariable HCMV genes.
Results: Among the 20 samples from 14 donors (13 HIV-infected and one HIV-negative) who yielded data meeting quality thresholds, 89 of the possible 109 genotypes were detected, and multiple-strain infections involving up to 5 strains per person were apparent in 9 HIV-infected women. Strain diversity was extensive among individuals but conserved compartmentally and longitudinally within them. Genotypic linkage was maintained within hypervariable UL73/UL74 and RL12/RL13/UL1 loci for virus entry and immunomodulation, but not between genes more distant from each other.
Conclusions: Breast milk from HIV-infected women contains multiple HCMV strains of high genotypic complexity and thus constitutes a major source for transmitting viral diversity.
Keywords: human cytomegalovirus; bioinformatics; breast milk; high-throughput sequencing; target enrichment; viral genomics.
© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.