In vitro assessment of biological properties of 14 independent isolates of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) was performed in order to gain insight into the spectrum of behavioral diversity of HIV-1s and to attempt to identify phenotypic traits that may be eventually correlated with in vivo pathogenesis. All of these biologically cloned isolates were found to spread very slowly in most cell cultures, requiring 8-10 weeks for virus to spread from a few infected cells to around 105 cells. If viral synergistic activity was also present, as in HTLV-1-infected cells, HIV-1 spread was greatly accelerated. The isolates varied in their cellular tropisms, having as much as 100,000-fold difference in their tropisms for various human CD4-positive cell lines. Several HIV isolates were dual-tropic for both T and promonocytic cells, but some of these isolates did not readily infect U937 promonocytes while readily infecting THP-1 promonocytes. Both the slow spread and extreme tropisms of HIV-1 isolates have practical implications for titering HIVs and for initiating any studies examining the interaction between a given isolate and any given cell. Some isolates did not score readily by reverse transcriptase assays while others did and this did not reflect the amount of infectious virus produced. These findings raise questions about the reliability of HIV quantitation by RT assay. The HIV isolates further varied in their ability to kill and/or fuse cells, whereas some induced cytopathology more efficiently in a given cell line than others, even though the latter appeared to replicate as well. Finally, most isolates killed cells without syncytia formation, demonstrating that cell-to-cell fusion is a minor mechanism of cytopathology. The properties observed for each HIV isolate appeared to be stable phenotypes for that virus and the diversity of biological behavior raises the possibility that independent HIV isolates may differ in their virulence properties in vivo as well.
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