Infection of human placental syncytiotrophoblast cells with HIV requires direct contact with infected leukocytes. In vitro investigations into mechanisms regulating placental HIV transmission and into the development of therapeutic interventions have been hampered by difficulties inherent in quantitating HIV levels in cocultures of infected lymphocytes and adherent multinucleated syncytiotrophoblast cells. Here, we have used fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) for the direct detection of HIV-1 RNA within syncytiotrophoblast cells combined with laser scanning cytometry (LSC) to quantitate HIV levels exclusively in the syncytiotrophoblast cells. HIV-1-infected lymphocytic MOLT-4 cells were cocultured with primary human syncytiotrophoblast cells. Lymphocytic cells were identified with an anti-vimentin antibody and Cy5. HIV RNA was localized by in situ hybridization, using a digoxigenin-labeled riboprobe detected by Oregon Green, and nuclei were stained with 7-aminoactinomycin D. The three-color cocultures were analyzed by LSC to remove unwanted cell populations and quantitate HIV expression levels. The total HIV RNA level (green fluorescence integral) in each colony was normalized for cell size by dividing by the total DNA content (red fluorescence integral). The nuclear-normalized fluorescence integral was 2.3 times higher in infected cocultures than in uninfected cultures. When cocultures were incubated with 10 μM AZT, the green/red fluorescence integral value was significantly lower than that of cocultures incubated in the absence of AZT, corresponding to a 78% reduction in fluorescence. Laser scanning cytometry can be used to quantitate cell-mediated HIV infection in syncytiotrophoblast cells and should allow drug assessment studies and studies aimed at understanding the mechanism of virus entry into trophoblast cells to be carried out.
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