A novel HIV-1 recombinant clade (CRF51_01B) was recently identified among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Singapore. As cases of sexually transmitted HIV-1 infection increase concurrently in two socioeconomically intimate countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, cross transmission of HIV-1 between said countries is highly probable. In order to investigate the timeline for the emergence of HIV-1 CRF51_01B in Singapore and its possible introduction into Malaysia, 595 HIV-positive subjects recruited in Kuala Lumpur from 2008 to 2012 were screened. Phylogenetic relationship of 485 amplified polymerase gene sequences was determined through neighbour-joining method. Next, near-full length sequences were amplified for genomic sequences inferred to be CRF51_01B and subjected to further analysis implemented through Bayesian Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) sampling and maximum likelihood methods. Based on the near full length genomes, two isolates formed a phylogenetic cluster with CRF51_01B sequences of Singapore origin, sharing identical recombination structure. Spatial and temporal information from Bayesian MCMC coalescent and maximum likelihood analysis of the protease, gp120 and gp41 genes suggest that Singapore is probably the country of origin of CRF51_01B (as early as in the mid-1990s) and featured a Malaysian who acquired the infection through heterosexual contact as host for its ancestral lineages. CRF51_01B then spread rapidly among the MSM in Singapore and Malaysia. Although the importation of CRF51_01B from Singapore to Malaysia is supported by coalescence analysis, the narrow timeframe of the transmission event indicates a closely linked epidemic. Discrepancies in the estimated divergence times suggest that CRF51_01B may have arisen through multiple recombination events from more than one parental lineage. We report the cross transmission of a novel CRF51_01B lineage between countries that involved different sexual risk groups. Understanding the cross-border transmission of HIV-1 involving sexual networks is crucial for effective intervention strategies in the region.
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