Journal of virology 2017 10 04() pii 10.1128/JVI.01237-17
HIV-1-infected macrophages participate in virus dissemination and establishment of virus reservoirs in host tissues, but the mechanisms for virus cell-to-cell transfer to macrophages remain unknown. Here, we reveal the mechanisms for cell-to-cell transfer from infected T cells to macrophages and virus spreading between macrophages. We show that contacts between infected T lymphocytes and macrophages lead to cell fusion for fast and massive transfer of CCR5-tropic viruses to macrophages. Through the merge of viral material between T cells and macrophages, these newly formed lymphocyte/macrophage fused cells acquire the ability to fuse with neighboring non-infected macrophages. Together, these two-step envelope-dependent cell fusion processes lead to the formation of highly virus-productive multinucleated giant cells reminiscent of the infected multinucleated giant macrophages detected in HIV-1-infected patients and SIV-infected macaques. These mechanisms represent an original mode of virus transmission for viral spreading and a new model for the formation of macrophage virus reservoirs during infection.IMPORTANCE We reveal a very efficient mechanism involved in cell-to-cell transfer from infected T cells to macrophages and subsequent virus spreading between macrophages by a two-step cell fusion process. Infected T cells first establish contacts and fuse with macrophage targets. The newly formed lymphocyte/macrophage fused cells then acquire the ability to fuse with surrounding uninfected macrophages leading to the formation of infected multinucleated giant cells that can survive for a long time as evidenced in vivo in lymphoid organs and the central nervous system. This route of infection may be a major determinant for virus dissemination and the formation of macrophage virus reservoirs in host tissues during HIV-1 infection.