Study Reveals how HIV Adapts to Host

Researchers have discovered how HIV adapts to its host to avoid destruction. The findings of the study mean researchers face greater challenges than previously known for finding an HIV vaccine.

The scientists discovered that HIV mutates to escape natural defense systems in the body. Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the University of Oxford in England found at least 14 different mutations of the HIV virus, based on genetic variations of the host.

The study, published in the journal Nature, shows how the HIV virus escapes different forms of human leukocyte antigen (HLA), by examining DNA variations of the HIV virus in conjunction with HLA. The research included 2,800 HIV-infected patients, from South Africa, Botswana, Australia, Canada and Japan.

Co-author, Richard Kaslow, M.D., a professor in the UAB School of Public Health explains, "If HIV adapts differently in genetically distinct hosts, the challenge ahead in vaccine design is formidable. Key genetic regions of HIV introduced into individuals of different ancestry in different places have been evolving to a greater or lesser degree according to inherited factors controlling immune response."

Study author Philip Goulder, M.D., a professor of immunology at the University of Oxford and the study's senior author says a vaccine for HIV will have to address the ever -changing genetic mutations that the HIV virus uses to avoid destruction. A vaccine for HIV must be able to “work against an ever-changing HIV immunology landscape”.

Human leukocyte antigens respond to infection according to individual genetic codes. Many people progress to AIDS rapidly, while others live years after becoming infected with HIV, without symptoms of AIDS.

The study shows how the HIV virus adapts to its host depending on genetic differences in human leukocyte antigens. Developing a vaccine for HIV poses greater challenges than previously known.

However, finding a vaccine for HIV should not be impossible in light of the new findings, says Dr. Goulder. "The implication is that once we have found an effective vaccine, it would need to be changed on a frequent basis to catch up with the evolving virus, much like we do today with the flu vaccine”.