Our previous study demonstrated the anti-apoptosis function of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) vpu gene product in normal CD4+ T lymphocytes. In this study, using sequences obtained from the HIV sequence database, we compared vpu sequences from 184 preparations of various subtypes of HIV-1 from diverse geographical regions. Our analysis revealed that CRF01_AE isolates had premature stop codon mutations at the vpu gene at a much higher rate (36%) than other subtypes (0-9%). The premature stop codon mutations in vpu existed mostly at two amino acid residues: the methionine initiation codon and the boundary between the transmembrane (TM) and cytoplasmic domains. The mutations at the latter site were more often detected in CRF01_AE. The higher mutation rates at vpu in CRF01_AE were confirmed by sequence comparison of polymerase chain reaction products newly obtained directly from the DNA extracted from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), but not from the RNA from the plasma, in CRF01_AE- and subtype B-infected individuals. This finding may indicate the possibility that the more abundant population of HIV-1 CRF01_AE is able to induce apoptosis in CD4+ T lymphocytes than the populations of other subtypes.
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