BACKGROUND: Heterosexual transmission remains the main route of HIV-1 transmission and female genital tract (FGT) inflammation increases the risk of infection. However, the mechanism(s) by which inflammation facilitates infection is not fully understood. In rhesus macaques challenged with simian immunodeficiency virus, dendritic cell (DC) mediated recruitment of CD4+ T cells to the FGT was critical for infection. The aim of this study was to delineate the mechanisms underlying DC-mediated HIV infection by comparing chemokine and pro-inflammatory cytokine production in response to transmitted founder (TF) and chronic infection (CI) Envelope (Env) pseudotyped viruses (PSV). RESULTS: Monocyte-derived DCs (MDDCs) were stimulated with PSV and recombinant gp140 representing matched TF and CI pairs of four individuals and cytokine secretion measured by multiplex immuno-assay. We found that 4/9 Env induced robust MDDC inflammatory responses and of those, three were cloned from TFs. Overall, TF Env induced MDDCs from healthy donors to secrete higher concentrations of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines than those from CI, suggesting TF Env were better inducers of inflammation. Assessing the signalling pathway associated with inflammatory cytokines, we found that PSV of matched TF and CI variants and a gp140 clone activated ERK and JNK to similar levels. Recombinant soluble DC-SIGN inhibited cytokine release and activation of ERK by PSV, suggesting that Env-DC-SIGN binding was partly involved in MDDC stimulation. Therefore, Env clones might differentially stimulate MDDC immune responses via alternative, yet unidentified signalling pathways. CONCLUSION: Overall, this could suggest that the genetics of the virus itself influences inflammatory responses during HIV infection. In the absence of pre-existing infections, induction of greater inflammatory response by TFs might favour virus survival within the healthy FGT by driving an influx of target cells to sites of infection while suppressing immune responses via IL-10.
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