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Intrasubtype B HIV-1 Superinfection Correlates with Delayed Neutralizing Antibody Response

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Understanding whether the neutralizing antibody (NAb) response impacts HIV-1 superinfection and how superinfection subsequently modulates the NAb response can help clarify correlates of protection from HIV exposures and better delineate pathways of NAb development. We examined associations between the development of NAb and the occurrence of superinfection in a well-characterized, antiretroviral therapy (ART)-naive, primary infection cohort of men who have sex with men. Deep sequencing was applied to blood plasma samples from the cohort to detect cases of superinfection. We compared the NAb activity against autologous and heterologous viruses between 10 participants with intrasubtype B superinfection and 19 monoinfected controls, matched to duration of infection and risk behavior. Three to 6 months after primary infection, individuals who would later become superinfected had significantly weaker NAb activity against tier 1 subtype B viruses (P = 0.003 for SF-162 and P = 0.017 for NL4-3) and marginally against autologous virus (P = 0.054). Lower presuperinfection NAb responses correlated with weaker gp120 binding and lower plasma total IgG titers. Soon after superinfection, the NAb response remained lower, but between 2 and 3 years after primary infection, NAb levels strengthened and reached those of controls. Superinfecting viruses were typically not susceptible to neutralization by presuperinfection plasma. These observations suggest that recently infected individuals with a delayed NAb response against primary infecting and tier 1 subtype B viruses are more susceptible to superinfection.IMPORTANCE Our findings suggest that within the first year after HIV infection, a relatively weak neutralizing antibody response against primary and subtype-specific neutralization-sensitive viruses increases susceptibility to superinfection in the face of repeated exposures. As natural infection progresses, the immune response strengthens significantly in some superinfected individuals. These findings will inform HIV vaccine design by providing testable correlates of protection from initial HIV infection.

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