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
SEP 27, 2019
Immunology
SEP 27, 2019
Diseases We Share with Our Canine Companions: Autoimmune Encephalitis in Dogs
Like humans, dogs can develop autoimmune encephalitis, and it’s common - mostly affecting smaller breeds and young adult dogs. Now scientists underst...
OCT 16, 2019
Health & Medicine
OCT 16, 2019
Study Links High Birth Weight to Risk of Allergies
Researchers from the University of Adelaide, Australia have linked the risk of developing childhood food allergies and eczema to heavier birth weight. The...
OCT 23, 2019
Immunology
OCT 23, 2019
Treating Celiac Disease May Be Possible
Delivering gluten to the body in a friendly, harmless package may be the way for people with celiac disease to finally have a sandwich again. A new clinica...
NOV 28, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
NOV 28, 2019
Immunotherapy Drug Shows Promise for Treating Advanced Prostate Cancer
By the end of the year, an estimated 175,000 men in the United States will have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Now, researchers from the UK have foun...
JAN 16, 2020
Health & Medicine
JAN 16, 2020
Babies in Africa Receive World's First Malaria Vaccine
Would you accept a vaccine that was only 40% effective? For those at risk of malaria, the answer is likely a resounding, "yes!" According to the...
FEB 07, 2020
Neuroscience
FEB 07, 2020
Eating Fruits and Vegetables May Lower Alzheimer's Risk
New research has found that flavonols, a large class of compounds present in many fruits and vegetables, may be linked to a lower risk of developing Alzhei...
Loading Comments...