Number of HIV-1 founder variants is determined by the recency of the source partner infection.
Villabona-Arenas CJ., Hall M., Lythgoe KA., Gaffney SG., Regoes RR., Hué S., Atkins KE.
During sexual transmission, the high genetic diversity of HIV-1 within an individual is frequently reduced to one founder variant that initiates infection. Understanding the drivers of this bottleneck is crucial to developing effective infection control strategies. Little is known about the importance of the source partner during this bottleneck. To test the hypothesis that the source partner affects the number of HIV founder variants, we developed a phylodynamic model calibrated using genetic and epidemiological data on all existing transmission pairs for whom the direction of transmission and the infection stage of the source partner are known. Our results suggest that acquiring infection from someone in the acute (early) stage of infection increases the risk of multiple-founder variant transmission compared with acquiring infection from someone in the chronic (later) stage of infection. This study provides the first direct test of source partner characteristics to explain the low frequency of multiple-founder strain infections.