Three strains of HIV-1 unique recombinant forms (URFs) descended from subtypes B, B', and CRF01_AE were identified among people who inject drugs in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. These three URFs shared a common recombination breakpoint in the reverse transcriptase region, indicating frequent linkage within the drug-injecting networks in Malaysia.
In many parts of Southeast Asia, the HIV-1 epidemic has been driven by the sharing of needles and equipment among intravenous drug users (IDUs). Over the last few decades, many studies have proven time and again that the diversity of HIV-1 epidemics can often be linked to the route of infection transmission. That said, the diversity and complexity of HIV-1 molecular epidemics in the region have been increasing at an alarming rate, due in part to the high tendency of the viral RNA to recombine. This scenario was exemplified by the discovery of numerous circulating recombinant forms (CRFs), especially in Thailand and Malaysia. In this study, we characterized a novel CRF designated CRF74_01B, which was identified in six epidemiologically unlinked IDUs in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The near-full length genomes were composed of CRF01_AE and subtype B', with eight breakpoints dispersed in the gag-pol and nef regions. Remarkably, this CRF shared four and two recombination hotspots with the previously described CRF33_01B and the less prevalent CRF53_01B, respectively. Genealogy-based Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of CRF74_01B genomic regions showed that it is closely related to both CRF33_01B and CRF53_01B. This observation suggests that CRF74_01B was probably a direct descendent from specific lineages of CRF33_01B, CRF53_01B and subtype B' that could have emerged in the mid-1990s. Additionally, it illustrated the active recombination processes between prevalent HIV-1 subtypes and recombinants in Malaysia. In summary, we report a novel HIV-1 genotype designated CRF74_01B among IDUs in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The characterization of the novel CRF74_01B is of considerable significance towards the understanding of the genetic diversity and population dynamics of HIV-1 circulating in the region.
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.