An accelerated, consistent macaque simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) model in which over 90% of pigtailed macaques (Maraca nemestrina) coinoculated with SIV/17E-Fr and SIV/DeltaB670 developed encephalitis was used to determine whether central nervous system (CNS) lesions are associated with the replication of specific genotypes in the brain and, more specifically, in the microglia. Ten of 11 inoculated macaques had severe (n = 3), moderate (n = 5), or mild (n = 2) encephalitis at 3 months postinoculation. To compare actively replicating viral genotypes in the CNS and in microglia with those in the periphery, the VI region of the SIV envelope gene was amplified and sequenced from RNA extracted from basal ganglia, from microglial cells isolated from the brain, and from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) isolated from blood at the time of death. To distinguish between actively replicating with latent viral genotypes in the CNS, viral genotypes in RNA and DNA from basal ganglia were compared. Two macrophage-tropic, neurovirulent viruses, SIV/17E-Fr and SIV/DeltaB670 Cl-2, predominated in the brain RNA of macaques with encephalitis, comprising 95% of the genotypes detected. The same two viral genotypes were present at the same frequencies in microglial cell RNA, suggesting that microglia are pivotal in the selective replication of neurovirulent viruses. There was a significantly greater number of viral genotypes in DNA than there were in RNA in the brain (P = 0.004), including those of both the macrophage- and lymphocyte-tropic viral strains. Furthermore, significantly fewer viral genotypes were detected in brain RNA than in PBMC RNA at the time of death (P = 0.004) and the viral strain that predominated in the brain frequently was different from that which predominated in the PBMC of the same animal. These data suggest that many viral genotypes enter the brain, but only a limited subset of macrophage-tropic, neurovirulent viruses replicate terminally in the brains of macaques with encephalitis. They further suggest that the selection of macrophage-tropic, neurovirulent viruses occurs not at the level of the blood-brain barrier but at a stage after virus entry and that microglial cells may play an important role in that selection process.
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