David Watkins, researcher with the Medical School and the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center, studies SIV viral infection at a microscope in his research lab. Photo by: Jeff Miller
MADISON-Mutations that allow AIDS viruses to escape detection by the immune system may also hinder the viruses’ ability to grow after transmission to new hosts, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced this week in the journal Nature Medicine.
The discovery may help researchers design vaccines that exploit the notorious mutability of HIV by training the immune system to attack the virus where it’s most vulnerable. The work appears alongside a study of HIV-infected people performed by scientists at Harvard Medical School and Oxford University. The Wisconsin study’s lead author, Thomas Friedrich, is a doctoral student working under the direction of David Watkins, professor of pathology at UW-Madison and senior scientist at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center.
Watkins’ team produced an "escaped" AIDS virus that mimicked events that occur in HIV infection when the virus mutates to become unrecognizable to killer cells known as cytotoxic T-lymphocytes, or CTL. The researchers found that the mutant virus did not grow as well as the original strain. The mutations, while allowing the virus to escape immune recognition, had also weakened the virus. To model the transmission of escaped viruses between people, the team inoculated monkeys with the mutant virus strain. They discovered that most of the escape mutations were lost as the virus grew in the monkeys, often restoring original sequences that killer cells could recognize.
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