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Certain Immune Genes Key in Fighting HIV

Scientists discover one that evolves quickly to battle virus

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 8, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Scientists have identified human immune system genes that may play an important role in fighting HIV, says a study in the Dec. 9 issue of Nature.

This discovery may help researchers find ways to counter HIV's use of rapid mutation to foil anti-HIV vaccines. The study also outlines the interplay between HIV and human evolution, since people with the protective versions of these immune genes are more likely to survive HIV infection and pass those genes along to their children.

"This study identifies the genetic battleground where the struggle between HIV and the human immune response occurs," principal investigator Dr. Philip Goulder, of the Partners AIDS Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a prepared statement.

"The findings will help in understanding precisely how the immune system can succeed or fail against HIV, a prerequisite for a rational approach towards design of an HIV vaccine," Goulder said.

He and his colleagues analyzed blood samples from 375 HIV-infected people. The researchers found that particular versions of the HLA-B immune gene had a major impact on how well the immune system could defend against HIV.

There are more than 560 versions of the HLA-B gene.

"We have known for some time that HLA-B molecules are evolving more rapidly than other types (of immune genes), but it has been unclear why this is happening. These data suggest an explanation for the more rapid evolution of HLA-B in response to other infectious diseases, not only HIV," Goulder said.

"This is an exciting time for infectious disease research because we are witnessing the evolutionary fight between the human immune system and the HIV virus happening right now, rather than over a period of thousands of years," he added.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about HIV infection and AIDS.

SOURCE: Partners AIDS Research Center, news release, Dec. 8, 2004
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