PloS one 2017 01 0612(1) e0169453 doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0169453
Worldwide most HIV infections occur through heterosexual transmission, involving complex interactions of cell-free and cell-associated particles with cells of the female genital tract mucosa. The ability of HIV-1 to "infect" epithelial cells remains poorly understood. To address this question, replicative-competent chimeric constructs expressing fluorescent proteins and harboring the envelope of X4- or R5-tropic HIV-1 strains were used to "infect" endometrial HEC1-A cells. The virus-cell interactions were visualized using confocal microscopy (CM) at various times post infection. Combined with quantification of viral RNA and total HIV DNA in infected cells, the CM pictures suggest that epithelial cells do not support a complete viral replication cycle: X4-tropic viruses are imported into the nucleus in a non-productive way, whereas R5-tropic viruses transit through the cytoplasm without replication and are preferentially transmitted to susceptible activated peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Within the limit of experiments conducted in vitro on a continued cell line, these results indicate that the epithelial mucosa may participate to the selection of HIV-1 strains at the mucosal level.