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HIV exploits competition among T cells

HOUSTON, Oct. 16, 2006 -- A new HIV study shows how competition among the human immune system's T cells allows the virus to escape destruction and eventually develop into full-blown AIDS. The study, which employs a computer model of simultaneous virus and immune system evolution, also suggests a new strategy for vaccinating against the virus a strategy that the computer simulations suggest may prevent the final onset of AIDS.

The research, which is slated for publication in Physical Review Letters, is available online at http://arxiv.org/abs/q-bio.PE/0610018.

"Competition among T cells exerts a small influence for most diseases, but it's fatal for HIV," said study co-author Michael Deem, Rice University's John W. Cox Professor in Biochemical and Genetic Engineering and professor of physics and astronomy.

The new computer model, created by Deem and Guanyu Wang, now an assistant professor of physics at George Washington University, is the first to accurately reproduce all three stages of HIV infection. The first is marked by an initial spike in virus production that's immediately followed by dramatic drop as the immune system recognizes the threat, mounts a defense and destroys most of the invading viruses. The second phase is a long period of clinical latency that can last up to 10 years. In this phase, a small amount of virus mutates fast enough to escape initial detection and continues to mutate over time. The third phase, AIDS, occurs when the virus has changed so much that the body's T cells are no longer effective at keeping it in check.

Deem and Wang's computer model accurately describes all three phases of HIV infection by incorporating a key component: competition among T cells. The model includes two forms of competition. The first form leads to a phenomenon known as deceptive imprinting, or original antigenic sin. Original antigenic sin is the tendency for memory imm
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Contact: Jade Boyd
jadeboyd@rice.edu
713-348-6778
Rice University
16-Oct-2006


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