What makes some people resistant to HIV infection?

Last updated on July 4th, 2021

For the person to get infection with HIV, they must have to acquire the virus from external sources, the only external source is another human being who is infected with HIV. That human being can be his/her sexual partner or partner who shares injecting drug needles. People can also get an infection with HIV during birth via the birth canal, during breastfeeding, or via blood transfusion/organ transplant.

HIV and its receptors
Image Source: aids.info.nih.gov

But all people who are exposed to HIV virus do not get infected. Some people are Lucky!

Coreceptor is a protein on the surface of a cell that serves as a second binding site for a virus or other molecule. In order to enter a host cell, HIV must bind to two sites on the cell: the primary CD4 receptor and either the CCR5 or CXCR4 coreceptor.

Wondering how luck can protect from HIV Infection? or thinking these people might have used some preventive measures such as the use of condoms or screening of blood/organ, not sharing needles, etc! I am not talking about those preventive measures, but about their genetic makeup which makes them resistant to HIV infection.

In general, each virus follows the same sequential steps during the infection process. Which is; attachment, penetration and uncoating, replication and biosynthesis, assembly and release. So the very first and crucial step is the attachment of the virus to their (specific) host cells. One of the good news for humans is viruses are very specific regarding their attachment to host cells.

Whenever we try to climb trees or very steep slopes (mountains), we need something to assist us to adhere there. That may be a rope or branch of a tree or rough surface. If these things are not available, can you imagine successfully climbing mountains or hills or trees? It is impossible! Similarly, for the virus to attach to the host cell, they need “something (like rope or branch of a tree)” which helps them to make a firm grip. That “something” is a receptor.

To enter a CD4 cell, HIV must first attach to a CD4 receptor, then attach to either the CCR5 or CXCR4 coreceptor, and finally fuse its membrane with the CD4 cell membrane. HIV can attach only to those CD4 cells which have specific chemokine receptor CXCR4 and/or CCR5. HIV is usually R5-tropic (uses CCR5) during the early stages of infection, but the virus may later switch to using either only CXCR4 (X4-tropic) or both CCR5 and CXCR4 (dual-tropic). If a particular CD4 cell lacks CCR5 or CXCR4 coreceptor, then the HIV can not attach to these CD4 cells so the whole process of HIV infection/replication is halted before it can start.

A new class of antiretroviral drug used in the treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), called CCR5 inhibitors are designed to prevent HIV infection of CD4 T-cells by blocking the CCR5 receptor.

Image Source: aids.info.nih.gov

Studies have found that mutations in the gene encoding CCR5 endow individuals with protection from HIV infection. People who are homozygotes are completely resistant to HIV infection whereas among heterozygotes HIV infection progresses very slowly.

Some of these lucky HIV-resistant people live in Western Europe (Who knows, many people in your country might also be resistant to HIV!). Approximately, 1% of people of western European ancestry have homozygous mutations in their gene and about 10-15% are heterozygotes.

References: 

  1. AIDS info 
About Acharya Tankeshwar 473 Articles
Hello, thank you for visiting my blog. I am Tankeshwar Acharya. Blogging is my passion. I am working as an Asst. Professor and Microbiologist at Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Nepal. If you want me to write about any posts that you found confusing/difficult, please mention in the comments below.

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