Researchers Identify Gene Variations Involved in Body’s Response to HIV; Finding Could Help Develop Vaccine
Variations in key genes that lead the body's fight against HIV might explain why some HIV-positive people can suppress the virus better than others, a finding that might aid vaccine development, according to a study published in the Dec. 9 issue of the journal Nature, AFP/News24.com reports (AFP/News24.com, 12/9). Dr. Philip Goulder of the Partners AIDS Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and colleagues from the University of Oxford, Harvard University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal studied blood samples collected from 375 HIV-positive women attending prenatal clinics in Durban, South Africa, according to BBC News. The researchers examined three types of human leukocyte antigens -- HLA-A, HLA-B and HLA-C -- that identify and mark cells as invaders. The researchers found that HLA-B genes, which evolve more rapidly than the A or C types of HLA genes, are the most effective at identifying HIV-infected cells for termination, BBC News reports. The researchers also found that HIV mutates more rapidly in response to the changing HLA-B molecules than the other gene types, according to BBC News (BBC News, 12/9). Researchers have identified more than 560 versions of HLA-B, Reuters reports (Reaney, Reuters, 12/8). Women who had one of two "protective" versions of HLA-B were more likely to live longer and less likely to transmit HIV to their infants during pregnancy or childbirth than women with other variants of HLA-B, AFP/News24.com reports (AFP/News24.com, 12/9). "This is an exciting time for infectious disease research because we are witnessing the evolutionary fight between the human immune system and the HIV virus happening right now, rather than over a period of thousands of years," Goulder said, adding, "The findings will help in understanding precisely how the immune system can succeed or fail against HIV, a prerequisite for a rational approach towards design of an HIV vaccine" (BBC News, 12/9).