Variation in the env (V3 region) and gag (p17 region) genes of genomic RNA of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 was studied in three mother-child pairs. One infant was human immunodeficiency virus type 1 RNA positive at birth (pair 114), one became positive 6 weeks after birth (pair 127), and one became positive 30 months after birth (pair 564). The first two children were born to seropositive mothers, and the last child was infected by breast-feeding following seroconversion of the mother after delivery. In both V3 and p17gag, intrasample variability was much higher in the maternal samples, including the first seropositive sample of the seroconverted mother, than in the infants' samples. Variability was less in p17gag than in V3, except in the postnatally infected child. In all three cases, infection of the child was established by variants representing a minority of the cell-free virus population in the maternal samples. For the two infants born to seropositive mothers, V3 sequences were more similar to the sequence populations of maternal samples collected during pregnancy than to those of samples collected at delivery or thereafter. However, in pair 114 a V3 variant identical to the child's virus was also detected in the sample collected at delivery. In contrast to the V3 region, p17gag sequences of maternal samples of the first trimester of pregnancy and at delivery had comparable resemblance to the child's sequences in pair 114, while in pair 127, similarity to sequences of the sample collected at delivery was higher than that to sequences of the sample from early in pregnancy. In the last pair, V3 and p17gag sequences from a maternal sample collected 18 months prior to the first RNA-positive sample of the child resembled the infant's sequences as much as the sample collected close to the presumed time of infection. Taken together, the evolutionary characteristics for genomic RNA env and gag genes did not point to a particular time of mother-to-child transmission
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