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HIV genome key to antibody development

Tuesday September 11th, 2018

The genome of HIV could hold the key to unlocking an HIV vaccine – because it determines when humans can develop antibodies, Swiss scientists reported last night.

About 1% of people infected with HIV-1 produce antibodies that block most strains of the virus.

The researchers from the University of Zurich (UZH) and the University Hospital Zurich (USZ) have shown that the genome of HIV is a decisive factor in determining which antibodies are formed.

The finding, published in Nature, adds to further factors that have already been identified, such as the virus load and the diversity of the viruses, the duration of the infection, and the ethnicity of the affected person – all of which can influence the body’s immune response.

The research team used data and biobanked blood samples of about 4,500 people with HIV from the Swiss HIV Cohort Study and the Zurich Primary HIV Infection Study.

They found 303 potential transmission pairs – pairs of patients for whom the similarity of the viruses’ genomic RNA indicated that they were likely to be infected with the same virus strain.

First author Roger Kouyos, research group leader at the Department of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiology at USZ, said: “By comparing the immune response of these pairs of patients, we were able to show that the HI virus itself has an influence on the extent and specificity of the antibody reactions.”

Alexandra Trkola, virologist and head of the Institute of Medical Virology at UZH, said they believe that a special envelope protein causes an efficient defence and will focus on envelope proteins and virus strains that lead to the formation of broadly acting antibodies as they search for an HIV vaccine.

“We have found one candidate. Based on that, we now want to begin developing an immunogen ourselves,” she added.

Kouyos RD, Rusert P, Kadelka C et al. Tracing HIV-1 strains that imprint broadly neutralising antibody responses. Nature 10 September 2018; doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0517-0

Tags: Europe | Flu & Viruses | Genetics

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