Emerging microbes & infections 2018 04 047(1) 59 doi 10.1038/s41426-018-0062-9
The HIV-1 pandemic is a consequence of the cross-species transmission of simian immunodeficiency virus in wild chimpanzees (SIVcpz) to humans. Our previous study demonstrated SIVcpz strains that are closely related to the ancestral viruses of HIV-1 groups M (SIVcpzMB897) and N (SIVcpzEK505) and two SIVcpz lineages that are not associated with any known HIV-1 infections in humans (SIVcpzMT145 and SIVcpzBF1167), all can readily infect and robustly replicate in the humanized-BLT mouse model of humans. However, the comparative pathogenicity of different SIVcpz strains remains unknown. Herein, we compared the pathogenicity of the above four SIVcpz strains with HIV-1 using humanized-BLT mice. Unexpectedly, we found that all four SIVcpz strains were significantly less pathogenic or non-pathogenic compared to HIV-1, manifesting lower degrees of CD4+ T-cell depletion and immune activation. Transcriptome analyses of CD4+ T cells from hu-BLT mice infected with SIVcpz versus HIV-1 revealed enhanced expression of genes related to cell survival and reduced inflammation/immune activation in SIVcpz-infected mice. Together, our study results demonstrate for the first time that SIVcpz is significantly less or non-pathogenic to human immune cells compared to HIV-1. Our findings lay the groundwork for a possible new understanding of the evolutionary origins of HIV-1, where the initial SIVcpz cross-species transmission virus may be initially less pathogenic to humans.