In a prospective study of pregnant women infected with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) in Brooklyn, New York, USA, 16 (29%) of 55 evaluable infants were infected with HIV-1. 9 infants had paediatric acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, 6 had less severe clinical manifestations of HIV-1 infection, and 1 was symptom-free but was seropositive for HIV-1 beyond 15 months of age. The 10 infants born at 37 weeks of gestation or earlier were at higher risk of HIV-1 infection than infants born at 38 weeks of gestation or later (60% vs 22%) but the median age at appearance of disease was approximately 5 months in both groups. The HIV-1 transmission rate was not associated with predelivery levels of maternal T cells, anti-p24, or neutralising antibodies but it was higher, among full-term infants, for those with mothers in the lowest third of the distribution of anti-gp 120 levels (53%). On immunoblot, transmitting mothers lacked a gp120 band but not other bands. Protection was not associated with antibody to recombinant peptides from the hypervariable region of the major neutralising gp120 epitope, and the anti-gp120 endpoint dilution titre was similar in transmitting and non-transmitting mothers. Mothers of uninfected full-term infants appear to confer immunological protection against HIV-1 infection of their offspring by way of a high-affinity antibody to a gp120 epitope, whose specificity has importance for vaccine development and possibly perinatal immunotherapy.
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