Scientists decode how HIV evades our immune system

The research shows that HIV targets and disables a pathway involving a number of biological molecules that are key in blocking viral activity and clearing infection.

health Updated: Apr 18, 2018 18:43 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
HIV,HIV info,HIV details
HIV remains a major global health problem, with over 40 million people infected worldwide.(Shutterstock)

Scientists have just discovered how the HIV virus evades the immune system, paving the way for new therapies to treat the infection that affects over 40 million people worldwide.

The research shows that HIV targets and disables a pathway involving a number of biological molecules that are key in blocking viral activity and clearing infection.

HIV remains a major global health problem, with over 40 million people infected worldwide. While people living with HIV have been treated with anti-retroviral therapy for over 30 years, this favoured therapeutic option merely prevents the progression of the disease to AIDS - it does not cure patients of HIV.

During any viral infection our immune system produces a powerful molecule Interferon, which ‘interferes’ with the infection and the replication of viruses. Interferon activates an assembly line of molecules in our cells - via a signalling pathway - which causes the body to make antivirals that help to clear the infection.

However, when patients are being treated with anti-retroviral therapy, HIV is not fully cleared by our immune system. Researchers from Trinity College Dublin in Ireland investigated whether HIV was somehow blocking the Interferon signalling pathway and thus avoiding the immune response that is designed to cure viral infection. The findings confirmed their suspicions.

“We discovered that HIV promotes the destruction of the anti-viral Interferon signalling pathway. Essentially, HIV uses the machinery in our own cells to do this, and the virus is thus able to reduce the production of many important anti-viral molecules,” said Nigel Stevenson, from assistant professor at Trinity College, led the work.

“Without these anti-viral molecules, our immune system can’t clear viral infections,” said Stevenson.

“Our new revelation sheds new light on how HIV avoids elimination, which, in turn, may explain why HIV is still not a curable disease,” he said.

“We feel this discovery could mark a paradigm shift in our understanding of how this virus evades our immune response. It should open the door to a new era of HIV research aiming to cure and eradicate this deadly virus,” he added.

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First Published: Apr 18, 2018 16:22 IST