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NIAID-Supported Scientists Discover Origin Of HIV-1

Today scientists reported that they have discovered the origin of HIV-1, the virus responsible for the global AIDS pandemic. A subspecies of chimpanzees native to west equatorial Africa has been identified as the original source of the virus.

Beatrice H. Hahn, M.D., of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a grantee of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), led the international team of investigators. They describe their findings in the February 4 issue of Nature. The journal moved the normal press embargo ahead to coincide with Dr. Hahn's presentation of the study details on the opening night of the 6th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Chicago.

"This is an important finding with significant potential," notes Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID director. "We now have chimpanzee isolates of simian immunodeficiency virus [SIVcpz] that have been shown by careful molecular analysis to be closely related to HIV-1. Furthermore, this virus infects a primate species that is 98 percent related to humans. This may allow us -- if done carefully and in collaboration with primatologists working to protect this endangered species -- to study infected chimpanzees in the wild to find out why these animals don't get sick, information that may help us better protect humans from developing AIDS."

Until now, HIV-1's origin had been unclear. Although most scientists suspected that the virus descended from a primate species, only three chimpanzees infected with viruses related to HIV-1 had been documented, and one of these viruses correlated only weakly with HIV-1.

When Dr. Hahn and her collaborators recently identified a fourth chimpanzee infected with SIVcpz, they decided to use this opportunity to carefully examine all four viruses and the animals from which they were derived. With sophisticated genetic techniques, they analyzed the four SIVcpz isolates and compared them with various HIV-1 viruses taken
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Contact: Laurie K. Doepel
ldoepel@nih.gov
301-402-1663
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
31-Jan-1999


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