Aggressive Form of HIV Progresses to AIDS Within Three Years

Multiple strains of HIV recombine into new variant.

Multiple strains of HIV recombine into new variant.

A recombined HIV variance uncovered in Cuba was found to be highly aggressive and can progress to AIDS within 3 years, according to a recent study.

Unprotected sex with multiple partners can increase the risk for contracting multiple HIV strains that can combine into a new variant of the virus. In a study published recently in EBioMedicine, researchers examined a recombined strain that advanced to AIDS so quickly that many patients failed to realize they were infected.

HIV must anchor itself to human cells before it can gain entry to the cell, which it does through co-receptor proteins on the cell membrane. The virus initially utilizes the CCR5 anchor point during a normal infection, which then switches to the CXCR4 anchor point after a number of healthy years.

This action coincides with a faster progression to AIDS, the study noted. The recombinant form of HIV uncovered in Cuba makes the transition to CXCR4 at a more rapid pace than the normal virus, occurring early after infection.

Researchers from KU Leuven's Laboratory for Clinical and Epidemiological Virology examined the blood of 73 recently-infected patients. Including among those patients were 52 at AIDS diagnosis and 21 without AIDS.

The researchers compared the blood results of these patients with the blood from 22 patients who progressed to AIDS after the standard HIV healthy period.

Patients infected with the HIV recombinant were found to have abnormally high doses of both the virus and the defensive molecule RANTES, which is part of the natural immune response that binds to CCR5. This high RANTES concentration indicated most CCR5 proteins were no longer available to serve as HIV anchor points, the study noted.

As a result, the researchers believe that the HIV recombinant was forced to bypass CCR5 and go straight to the CXCR4 anchor point. All of the patients in the study infected with the recombinant HIV variant developed AIDS within 3 years of infection, which bolstered this theory.

The researchers stated that the rapid transition of the recombinant variant occurred due to the combination of fragments from different HIV subtypes. One of the fragments includes an efficient protease that helps the virus replicate in greater numbers, which facilitates the transition to CXCR4 anchoring.