HIV infection stems from few viruses

May 16, 2008

A new study reveals the genetic identity of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the version responsible for sexual transmission, in unprecedented detail.

The finding provides important clues in the ongoing search for an effective HIV/AIDS vaccine, said researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The UAB team found that among billions of HIV variants only a few lead to sexual transmission.

Earlier studies have shown that a ‘bottleneck’ effect occurs where few versions of the virus lead to infection while many variants are present in the blood. The UAB study is the first to use genetic analysis and mathematical modeling to identify precisely those viruses responsible for HIV transmission.

George M. Shaw, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the UAB departments of Medicine and Microbiology and senior author on the report, said the research sheds new light on potential vulnerabilities in the virus at a time when science, medicine and society are still reeling from the failure of a major HIV vaccine clinical trial.

“We can now identify unambiguously those viruses that are responsible for sexual transmission of HIV-1. For the first time we can see clearly the face of the enemy,” said Shaw, a project leader with the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology. The center is a National Institutes of Health-sponsored consortium of researchers at UAB, Harvard Medical School in Boston, Oxford University in England, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and Duke University in Durham, N.C.

The new HIV-1 findings are published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The new study was performed by sequencing many copies of the HIV envelope gene present in the viruses taken from 102 recently infected patients. The envelope gene encodes for a protein called Env that forms part of the outer covering of the virus, and is responsible for its infectiousness.

The researchers then used sophisticated mathematical models of HIV replication and genetic change to identify the virus or viruses responsible for transmission. In 80 percent of the newly infected patients, a single virus caused transmission, though each virus was different in each patient. In the other 20 percent of patients, two to five unique viruses caused transmission.

“Previously, researchers employed inexact methodologies that prevented precise identification of the virus that initiated infection,” said Brandon Keele, Ph.D., an instructor in UAB’s Department of Medicine and lead study investigator. “Our findings allow us to identify not only the transmitted virus, but also viruses that evolve from it.”

The UAB team said their work would lead to new research on how different HIV genes and proteins work together to make a virus biologically fit for transmission and for growth in the face of mounting immunity.

Statistics show that while the worldwide percentage of people infected with HIV has leveled off, the total number HIV cases is rising. In 2007, 33.2 million people were estimated to be living with HIV, 2.5 million people became newly infected and 2.1 million people died from AIDS, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization.

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Explore further: War in Ukraine has escalated HIV spread in the country: study

Related Stories

War in Ukraine has escalated HIV spread in the country: study

January 15, 2018
Conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of HIV outbreaks throughout the country as displaced HIV-infected people move from war-affected regions to areas with higher risk of transmission, according to analysis by scientists.

Study supports use of short-term HIV treatment interruption in clinical trials

January 11, 2018
A short-term pause in HIV treatment during a carefully monitored clinical trial does not lead to lasting expansion of the HIV reservoir nor cause irreversible damage to the immune system, new findings suggest.

Surprise: A virus-like protein is important for cognition and memory

January 11, 2018
A protein involved in cognition and storing long-term memories looks and acts like a protein from viruses. The protein, called Arc, has properties similar to those that viruses use for infecting host cells, and originated ...

How can CRISPR genome editing shape the future of cancer research?

January 12, 2018
The genome editing technology CRISPR is causing plenty of excitement in cancer research.

New long-acting, less-toxic HIV drug suppresses virus in humanized mice

January 8, 2018
A team of Yale researchers tested a new chemical compound that suppresses HIV, protects immune cells, and remains effective for weeks with a single dose. In animal experiments, the compound proved to be a promising new candidate ...

Usage remains low for pill that can prevent HIV infection

January 8, 2018
From gritty neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles to clinics in Kenya and Brazil, health workers are trying to popularize a pill that has proven highly effective in preventing HIV but which—in their view—remains woefully ...

Recommended for you

Researchers offer new model for uncovering true HIV mortality rates in Zambia

January 12, 2018
A new study that seeks to better ascertain HIV mortality rates in Zambia could provide a model for improved national and regional surveillance approaches, and ultimately, more effective HIV treatment strategies.

New drug capsule may allow weekly HIV treatment

January 9, 2018
Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital have developed a capsule that can deliver a week's worth of HIV drugs in a single dose. This advance could make it much easier for patients to adhere to the strict schedule ...

Researchers find clues to AIDS resistance in sooty mangabey genome

January 3, 2018
Peaceful co-existence, rather than war: that's how sooty mangabeys, a monkey species found in West Africa, handle infection by SIV, a relative of HIV, and avoid developing AIDS-like disease.

Could gene therapy someday eliminate HIV?

January 3, 2018
(HealthDay)—Gene therapy may have the potential to eradicate HIV in people infected with the virus, new animal research suggests.

Study establishes benchmarks for HIV vaccine candidates

December 27, 2017
The development of a vaccine that protects against HIV infections has proven extraordinarily difficult. One of the reasons is that naïve precursor B cells that can give rise to mature B cells producing broadly neutralizing ...

Anti-virus protein in humans may resist transmission of HIV-1 precursor from chimps

December 21, 2017
In humans, an anti-virus protein known as APOBEC3H may defend against cross-species transmission from chimpanzees of the virus that gave rise to HIV-1. Zeli Zhang of Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Germany, and colleagues ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.