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Research suggests ability of HIV to cause AIDS is slowing
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Impact of HLA-driven HIV adaptation on virulence in populations of high HIV seroprevalence | |
Factors that influence the virulence of HIV are of direct relevance to ongoing efforts to contain, and ultimately eradicate, the HIV epidemic. We here investigate in Botswana and South Africa, countries severely affected by HIV, the impact on HIV virulence of adaptation of HIV to protective HLA alleles such as HLA-B*57. In Botswana, where the epidemic started earlier and reached higher adult seroprevalence than in South Africa, HIV replication capacity is lower. HIV is also better adapted to HLA-B*57, which in Botswana has no protective effect, in contrast to its impact in South Africa. Modelling studies indicate that increasing antiretroviral therapy access may also contribute to accelerated declines in HIV virulence over the coming decades.
It is widely believed that epidemics in new hosts diminish in virulence over time, with natural selection favoring pathogens that cause minimal disease. However, a tradeoff frequently exists between high virulence shortening host survival on the one hand but allowing faster transmission on the other. This is the case in HIV infection, where high viral loads increase transmission risk per coital act but reduce host longevity. We here investigate the impact on HIV virulence of HIV adaptation to HLA molecules that protect against disease progression, such as HLA-B*57 and HLA-B*58:01. We analyzed cohorts in Botswana and South Africa, two countries severely affected by the HIV epidemic. In Botswana, where the epidemic started earlier and adult seroprevalence has been higher, HIV adaptation to HLA including HLA-B*57/58:01 is greater compared with South Africa (P = 7 × 10−82), the protective effect of HLA-B*57/58:01 is absent (P = 0.0002), and population viral replicative capacity is lower (P = 0.03). These data suggest that viral evolution is occurring relatively rapidly, and that adaptation of HIV to the most protective HLA alleles may contribute to a lowering of viral replication capacity at the population level, and a consequent reduction in HIV virulence over time. The potential role in this process played by increasing antiretroviral therapy (ART) access is also explored. Models developed here suggest distinct benefits of ART, in addition to reducing HIV disease and transmission, in driving declines in HIV virulence over the course of the epidemic, thereby accelerating the effects of HLA-mediated viral adaptation.


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