Dendritic cells isolated from thymus and tonsil were tested for susceptibility to HIV-1 strains that are tropic for macrophages or for T cell lines. DCs were purified by cell sorting and before infection expressed high levels of CD4 and HLA-DR and lacked markers for T, B, NK cells, or macrophages. Viral entry and reverse transcription was found after pulsing with strains of HIV-1 that could infect macrophages. During the first 36 h the PCR signals for gag sequences increased in DCs and macrophages. In contrast little if any viral DNA was found after pulsing macrophages or DCs with HIV-1 that was able to infect T cell lines. DCs pulsed with HIV-1 were able to transmit infection to responding T cells during an allogeneic or superantigen response. Selection for virus able to infect lymphoid DCs and other DCs expressing CD4 and its transfer to T cells during subsequent immune responses may provide a mechanism for the observed predominance of macrophage-tropic HIV-1 after in vivo transmission.

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