Many pathogens infect macrophages as part of their intracellular life cycle. This is particularly true for viruses, of which HIV-1 is one of the best studied. HIV-1 infection of macrophages has important consequences for viral persistence and pathogenesis, but the mechanisms of macrophage infection remain to be fully elucidated. Despite expressing viral entry receptors, macrophages are inefficiently infected by cell-free HIV-1 virions, whereas direct cell-cell spread is more efficient. Different modes of cell-cell spread have been described, including the uptake by macrophages of infected T cells and the fusion of infected T cells with macrophages, both leading to macrophage infection. Cell-cell spread can also transmit HIV-1 between macrophages and from macrophages to T cells. Here, we describe the current state of the field concerning the cell-cell spread of HIV-1 to and from macrophages, discuss mechanisms, and highlight potential in vivo relevance.
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