African HIV More Virulent

Researchers say strains may be more resistant than those in U.S., Europe

Written by HealthDay News

Updated on June 15, 2022

TUESDAY, July 9, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- African strains of HIV may be more resistant to current treatments than the forms found in North America and Western Europe.

"Although clinical studies are still very limited, early reports in the medical literature have suggested a poorer long-term response to antiviral therapies in African patients, despite a similar initial response," says Ernesto Freire, study author and a professor of biology and biophysics at Johns Hopkins University.

A subtype called HIV-B is most common in Western Europe and North America. However, two genetically different strains, HIV-A and HIV-C, are predominant in Africa.

Current therapies to treat HIV target HIV-B but may need to be altered to tackle the African subtypes, Freire says.

Compounds called protease inhibitors are among the most effective ways to combat HIV. The protease inhibitors help reduce the spread of the disease by binding to the HIV protease, a protein that's important in HIV reproduction.

In this study, published today in Biochemistry, Freire and his colleagues took a common HIV-B subtype mutation that could potentially be found in the African forms of the disease. The mutation creates drug resistance in HIV-B by enhancing the biochemical fitness of the protease.

The researchers introduced this mutation into HIV-A and HIV-C proteases. They found the resultant HIV-C and HIV-A proteases had biochemical fitness levels up to 1,000 times higher than that of normal HIV-B.

"In other words, the natural variations that exist in the protease of the African strains are not sufficient to cause resistance by themselves, but they amplify the effects of drug-resistant mutations and, hence, lead to a faster long-term failure of the therapy," Freire says.

He says this research shows HIV drug development needs to be broadened beyond targeting HIV-B.

There are more than 40 million people with HIV worldwide, and 70 percent of them are in Africa.

More information

The World Bank offers a comprehensive roundup of the effects of AIDS on the continent of Africa.

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