A recently-discovered form of HIV in Cuba has been found to progress into AIDS some three times faster than the most common strains of the virus, according to a recent study.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium and published in the journal EBioMedicine, followed several reports of HIV-infected people in Cuba developing AIDS in less than three years, far faster than the usual 10 years it typically takes.
This variant of HIV that is much more aggressive than other known forms of the virus has been documented. Patients infected with this new variant progress to AIDS so rapidly that they may not even know they are infected, with AIDS symptoms occurring within 3 years of infection.
If a person contracts multiple strains of HIV – typically by engaging in unprotected sex with multiple infected partners – then
these strains can recombine into a new variant of HIV within the host. The new Cuban variant of HIV is one such recombinant version of the virus.
HIV anchors itself to co-receptors – proteins on the membranes of cells – before the virus is able to penetrate the cell. The first co-receptor that HIV anchors to is known as CCR5. Then, after a number of years of normal health, the virus switches to the anchor point CXCR4, which results in a faster progression to AIDS.
In the recombinant form of HIV identified in Cuba, HIV makes the transition to CXCR4 shortly after infection, reducing the healthy phase and initiating the progression to AIDS.
The research team, compared the blood of 73 recently-infected patients with this recombinant form of HIV – of whom 52 had been diagnosed with AIDS – with blood from 22 patients who had progressed to AIDS after the normal “healthy” period of infection with HIV.
The patients with the recombinant HIV were found to have abnormally high doses of the virus and defensive molecules called RANTES.
RANTES is part of the human immune response and binds to CCR5 – the co-receptor that HIV initially anchors onto after infection.
Because RANTES is present at higher concentrations in these patients than normal, it suggests that most of the CCR5 proteins were unavailable as anchor points for HIV. Therefore, the recombinant HIV would have to bypass its usual anchor point, heading straight to CXCR4 instead.
Protease in recombinant variant boosts virus replication
One of the HIV subtypes implicated in the recombinant variant was also found to contain a protease – an enzyme that cleaves proteins in new viruses – that enables the virus to replicate in greater numbers. The researchers suggest that this protease makes it easier for the transition to CXCR4 to occur.
Normally, say the authors of the study – the transition from CCR5 to CXCR4 is “very difficult.”
Recently, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the journal Cell that explored the theory that pools of dormant HIV lurking in DNA may hold a potential cure for the infection.
A new smartphone accessory purportedly capable of diagnosing HIV and syphilis from one finger prick of blood within 15 minutes. This accessory – or “dongle” – has been piloted among health care workers in Rwanda, with 97% of patients recommending the device. With a manufacturing cost of just $34, the dongle is much more affordable than the standard forms of diagnostic testing, which typically cost $18,450.
Approximately 35 million people worldwide are living with HIV or AIDS, and nearly 40 million have died of the disease since the 1980s. Drugs exist to keep the worst effects of the disease at bay, but this new strand threatens to take a toll on patients before they realize they need treatment
Ghana Health Nest/Kobby Blay