High frequency of new recombinant forms in HIV-1 transmission networks demonstrated by full genome sequencing

Laura Hebberecht, Virginie Mortier, Kenny Dauwe, Marlies Schauvliege, Delfien Staelens, Els Demecheleer, Karolien Stoffels, Fien Vanroye, Marie-Luce Delforge, Ellen Vancutsem, Geraldine Dessilly, Dolores Vaira, Kristel Van Laethem, Chris Verhofstede

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


The HIV-1 epidemic in Belgium is primarily driven by MSM. In this patient population subtype B predominates but an increasing presence of non-B subtypes has been reported. We aimed to define to what extent the increasing subtype heterogeneity in a high at risk population induces the formation and spread of new recombinant forms. The study focused on transmission networks that reflect the local transmission to an important extent. One hundred and five HIV-1 transmission clusters were identified after phylogenetic analysis of 2849 HIV-1 pol sequences generated for the purpose of baseline drug resistance testing between 2013 and 2017. Of these 105 clusters, 62 extended in size during the last two years and were therefore considered as representing ongoing transmission. These 62 clusters included 774 patients in total. From each cluster between 1 and 3 representative patients were selected for near full-length viral genome sequencing. In total, the full genome sequence of 101 patients was generated. Indications for the presence of a new recombinant form were found for 10 clusters. These 10 clusters represented 105 patients or 13.6% of the patients covered by the study. The findings clearly show that new recombinant strains highly contribute to local transmission, even in an epidemic that is largely MSM and subtype B driven. This is an evolution that needs to be monitored as reshuffiing of genome fragments through recombination may influence the transmissibility of the virus and the pathology of the infection. In addition, important changes in the sequence of the viral genome may challenge the performance of tests used for diagnosis, patient monitoring and drug resistance analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104365
JournalInfection, Genetics and Evolution
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • HIV-1
  • New recombinant forms
  • Transmission clusters
  • Full genome sequencing
  • Subtyping


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