HIV Might Be Result of Gene Mutation, Study Says
HIV might be the result of a gene mutation that occurred when the simian immunodeficiency virus -- believed to be the progenitor of HIV -- jumped from apes to humans, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Cell, Reuters reports. The findings could lead to the development of new treatments for HIV, researchers said. A study released last month finds that HIV originated from SIV, which does not cause disease in apes. Frank Kirchoff of the University of Ulm in Germany and colleagues studied a gene called nef that is found in HIV and SIV. In SIV, nef prevents CD4+ T cells from self-destructing. In HIV, the virus selectively infects CD4+ T cells and causes them to self-destruct. According to researchers, the findings show that nef genes in HIV might have lost the characteristic that prevents CD4+ T cells from self-destructing and that protects apes' immune systems (Reuters, 6/15). Researchers also found that the much rarer HIV-2 strain of the virus functions similarly to SIV (Economist, 6/17). "The findings suggest that the gene function was lost during viral evolution in a lineage that gave rise to HIV-1 and may have predisposed the simian precursor of HIV-1 for greater pathogenicity in humans," the researchers write (Reuters, 6/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.