The finding has important implications for the development of vaccines to combat the AIDS epidemic, according to Bruce Walker, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher. Walker is one of the leaders of the project, and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Partners AIDS Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The research also offers an intriguing glimpse into the simultaneous evolution of a pathogen and its human host. "This is the closest we have come to being able to watch as the evolution of the human population is affected by a pathogen," Walker said.
The other leaders of the project were Philip Goulder, assistant professor of medicine at Partners AIDS Research Center, and Hoosen (Jerry) Coovadia, professor of HIV/AIDS research at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. A paper describing their work was published in the December 9, 2004, issue of Nature.
AIDS researchers long have wondered why people have varying responses to HIV infection. "Some people rapidly progress to illness within a year or two, while others after 20 years of follow-up are still doing fine," said Walker. "The range of outcomes is widespread."
To examine the question, Walker and his colleagues focused on the class I human leukocyte antigen (HLA) molecules that occur in most of the cells in the body. When a cell is infected with a virus, the HLA molecules grab pieces of the proteins made by the virus and display the protein fragments on their surface. Other immune system cells recognize the foreign proteins presented by the HLA molecules and k
Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute