Medical News

Researchers Find Possible Chink in HIV's Armor

March 26, 2004

This article is part of The Body PRO's archive. Because it contains information that may no longer be accurate, this article should only be considered a historical document.

University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) researchers in Zambia have discovered that HIV in its earliest stages of infection might be especially vulnerable to vaccines. At UAB's clinic in Lasaka, Zambia, health-care workers followed heterosexual couples in which one partner was HIV-positive. Over a five-year period of examining couples at three-month intervals, the scientists found eight new infections in early stages, according to Cynthia Derdeyn of UAB's Department of Microbiology.

In four cases, HIV was transmitted man-to-woman, and in four cases it was transmitted woman-to-man. Derdeyn and co-authors found that newly transmitted viruses were very different from those in people who had HIV for years. New infections showed only one variant of HIV, while long-term infections were marked with several variants. Moreover, the variants in new HIV infections seemed vulnerable.

"They were less shielded with the sugar substance that the virus uses to protect itself from ... antibodies," Derdeyn said, adding that the viruses were particularly vulnerable to antibodies in the blood of the transmitting partner. "So a seemingly vulnerable virus turns out to be the one that's the strongest in establishing new infections," Derdeyn noted.

Derdeyn said the discovery is good news for vaccine researchers because it gives them a window of opportunity and a target: single variants in new HIV infections. The findings suggest that low levels of antibodies created by vaccines, if properly targeted and timed, could stave off HIV infections. The research also contributes to the idea of creating prophylactic treatments for use just before or after possible HIV exposure, Derdeyn said.

The report, "Envelope-Constrained Neutralization-Sensitive HIV-1 After Heterosexual Transmission," appeared in Science (2004;26;(5666):2016-2019). The National Institutes of Health and the American Foundation for AIDS Research funded the study.

Back to other news for March 26, 2004

Adapted from:
Birmingham News
03.26.04; Dave Parks

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.


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