Maternal-fetal transmission of human immunodeficiency virus

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21 Scopus citations


The World Health Organization estimates that by year 2000, 10 million children will be infected with human immunodeficiency virus type I (HIV-1) at birth and will subsequently develop AIDS. Perinatally acquired infections account for the majority of all HIV-1 cases in children, with an estimated mother-to-infant transmission rate of more than 30%. It is not clear why more than half of the children born to HIV-1-infected mothers are uninfected. Maternal transmission of HIV-1 occurs at three levels: prepartum, intrapartum, and postpartum. Several maternal parameters including advanced clinical stages of the mother, low CD4+ lymphocyte counts, maternal immune response to HIV-1, recent infection, high level of circulating HIV-1, and maternal disease progression have been implicated in an increased risk of mother-to-infant transmission of HIV-1. Viral factors influencing mother-to- infant transmission are not known. Furthermore, several other factors such as acute infection during pregnancy, presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STD) or other chronic infections, vaginal bleeding, disruption of placental integrity, premature rupture of membrane (PROM), and preterm PROM have been associated with mother-to-infant transmission of HIV-1. In addition, tobacco and cigarette smoking during pregnancy have been shown to triple the rate of maternal transmission of HIV-1. The AIDS Clinical Trial Group (ACTG) suggested that zidovudine (ZDV) can reduce the rate of mother- to-infant transmission of HIV-1 if administered to HIV-1-infected pregnant women with CD4 counts greater than 200. Moreover, this study failed to take into consideration several factors that may influence maternal transmission of HIV-1. However, the molecular mechanisms involved in mother-to-infant transmission of HIV-1 are not understood, which makes it more difficult to define strategies for effective treatment and prevention of HIV-1 infection in children. Several groups are engaged in the understanding of the molecular and biological properties of HIV-1 influencing mother-to-infant transmission. Results from my and several other laboratories suggest that the minor genotypes, subtypes, or variants of HIV-1 found in a genetically heterogeneous virus population of infected mothers are transmitted to their infants. The minor HIV-1 genotype predominates initially as a homogeneous population in the infant and then becomes diverse as the infant matures. Furthermore, transmission of a major or multiple HIV-1 genotypes from mother to infant has been reported. Taken together, these results strongly suggest that there are differences among the molecular and biological properties of the maternal variants that are transmitted to the infants and the maternal variants that are not transmitted to the infants. The understanding of the molecular and biological properties of the transmitted viruses will enable researchers to target a particular subtype in the mothers thai is transmitted to the infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-250
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Biomedical Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996


  • Genotypes
  • HIV-1
  • HIV-1 mother-infant transmission
  • Pediatric AIDS
  • Phenotypes
  • Transmission
  • Viral or host factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Biochemistry, medical
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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