In order to study the relationship between virus populations in a human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-infected mother and her infant, we analysed a 276 bp fragment, including the V3 region, of genomic HIV-1 RNA purified from serum. Samples were collected from the mother 6, 4 and 2 months prior to delivery, during delivery and 10 months after childbirth (samples MA to ME, respectively) and from the infant at birth (cord blood) and the ages of 6 weeks and 9 months. A heterogeneous sequence population was observed in the maternal samples (mean nucleotide variation of 2.4 to 4.2%, range 0 to 8.3%). Until the age of 6 weeks the sequence population in the infant was highly homogeneous (mean nucleotide variation ⩽0.7%, range 0 to 2.5%). At 9 months of age, the infant's virus population showed more heterogeneity (mean nucleotide variation of 1.8%, range 0.4 to 3.6%) and a drift in the consensus sequence was observed. The evolution of the V3 region in the mother was characterized by accumulation of amino acid substitutions diverging from the virus population observed in the infant. The mean nucleotide distance between the maternal sequence populations and the sequence population of the child at birth was 2.8, 2.6, 3.7, 5.2 and 5.3% for the samples MA, MB, MC, MD and ME, respectively. Nearly complete replacement at position 308, previously described as antigenically important, from a proline to a histidine was observed during pregnancy, whereas all clones of the child's virus at birth and at 6 weeks contained a proline at that position. In conclusion, intra-uterine transmission is associated with a homogeneous sequence population in the child at birth, which is more closely related to the sequence population present in the mother during the first and second trimester of pregnancy than to the sequence population at delivery.


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