The latest AIDS Research has employed a comprehensive genome-wide scan involving more than a million measurements of the DNA of HIV “controllers” from everywhere around the world. The genomes of this small fraction of infected people whose immune systems seem to keep the Aids virus controlled without the help of drugs were measured against the genomes of 2,600 average HIV patients.

Substantial differences were found in the DNA of a crucial protein of the immune system called HLA-B – previously discovered to protect the body against viruses responsible for AIDS. Along with release of the first 3D AIDS Virus photo and work on an AIDS vaccine, revolutionary progress is being made on many fronts in the war on this devastating disease.

aids research genesThe study established that the HLA-B protein of HIV controllers deviated by just five amino acids, and that these changes developed at the “binding pocket” of proteins, the location on the molecule that latches onto invading viruses in order to signal the immune system of a viral attack.

Of the more than three billion nucleotides in the human genome, only a handful cause the difference between those who can remain healthy in spite of HIV infection and those who will develop Aids without treatment. Identifying where this difference develops, in the genome, allows a sharper focus of efforts that will ultimately channel the immune system to brace against HIV. Former studies demonstrated that certain genes associated with the HLA system were key to HIV control. But those studies couldn’t tell us precisely which genes were affected and how they generated this difference. The new findings take us not only to definite proteins, but to the parts of those proteins essential to their functions.

The discovery reveals one factor among several that boosts the chances of someone being able to live for many years with HIV. Although a major determinant has been detected there are other factors that will influence the course. The precise mechanism that explains HIV controllers has not been identified, but of all the genetic controls involved, this is by far the most important.

For instance, one of the “HIV controllers”, diagnosed in November 2003, has been able to maintain constant HIV levels in his blood, while never having received antiretroviral therapy. At this stage of the infection, and without anti-HIV drugs, the patient would commonly be expected to have a “viral load” of at least 50,000 copies of the HIV. Instead, he has fewer than 50 copies, which indicate to the researchers that there was something expressly unique about his immune system.

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