FEB 21, 2017 10:19 AM PST

HIV Plays "Hide and Seek" With Our Immune System

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Human immunodeficiency virus, notoriously known as HIV, appears untouchable by the immune system, resulting in millions of HIV-related deaths over the past three decades. Researchers from a new study are captivated by the “molecular detail” in which HIV sneaks past the most complex immune defenses.

"This work uncovers a novel mechanism for HIV immune escape, which will be important to incorporate into future vaccine development and may have broader implications for immune recognition of MHC molecules," explained principal author Dr. Julian Vivian.

Vivian is part of a massive collaborative effort between the Systems Immunity Research Institute (SIURI) at Cardiff University and the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), which is dedicated to multiple research projects investigating the intricacies of the immune system.

Unfortunately, HIV has evolved to become resistant to one of the immune system’s most powerful protective strategies: the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). By evading this immune mechanism designed to alarm the rest of the immune system of HIV presence, HIV quickly bypasses an immune stronghold that keeps almost all other bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens at bay.

This is a stylized illustration of a peptide epitope extending from the N-terminal end of the HLA-I binding groove. Source: Imaging CoE

MHC is a part of the immune system responsible for displaying pieces of HIV on the surface of cells as a warning flag to other immune cells: T cells and natural killer cells that go on to activate macrophages that engulf and kill pathogens and B cells that produce antibodies to target pathogens.

The complex is separated into MHC-I and MHC-II specific genes with multiple variants of each gene in the entire population. Every individual contains a unique set of MHC molecules. But in the case of HIV, mutations in the virus cause MHC to respond  to evolving viral DNA in such a way that renders mutating HIV “invisible” to the immune system. In this way, the careful evolution of HIV led to what researchers are calling the “escape mutant.”

Responding to the escape mutant is a topic of many current research studies, and scientists are on the edge of perfecting immunotherapies that “re-enlighten” the immune system to recognize the presence of HIV despite its evasive techniques.

Vivian’s study was recently published in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.

Sources: Monash University, Immunobiology: The Immune System in Health and Disease. 5th edition

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
OCT 02, 2020
Immunology
Stop the Clot: A New Antibody Treatment for Thrombosis
OCT 02, 2020
Stop the Clot: A New Antibody Treatment for Thrombosis
Blood clotting helps stem the bleeding from a wound, suppressing blood loss and stopping pathogenic microorganisms from ...
OCT 14, 2020
Immunology
Happiness Linked to Heart Attack Risk
OCT 14, 2020
Happiness Linked to Heart Attack Risk
Asking patients questions about their personal lives could predict their future risk of a heart attack. A study, publish ...
OCT 20, 2020
Immunology
The Immune Pause Button Slowing MS Progression
OCT 20, 2020
The Immune Pause Button Slowing MS Progression
  Scientists have a new theory about the genetics behind the progressive, debilitating effects of multiple sclerosi ...
NOV 10, 2020
Immunology
Genetic Profiling Reveals How Ebola Puts Immune Cells in a Chokehold
NOV 10, 2020
Genetic Profiling Reveals How Ebola Puts Immune Cells in a Chokehold
In the middle of 2020, yet another deadly Ebola outbreak was reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo - the 11th ...
NOV 12, 2020
Immunology
Anti-bodies against a sugar present in meat and dairy products can increase the risk of Colorectal Cancer
NOV 12, 2020
Anti-bodies against a sugar present in meat and dairy products can increase the risk of Colorectal Cancer
Nutrition is essential to health; what we eat in our daily diet affects our overall health condition and what diseases w ...
NOV 25, 2020
Immunology
Another COVID-19 vaccine shows promising results!
NOV 25, 2020
Another COVID-19 vaccine shows promising results!
A week ago, another biotechnology company "Moderna" announced the preliminary results from its COVID-19 vaccin ...
Loading Comments...