"Conventional medical wisdom tells us that the bigger the immune response, the more effective it will be in controlling HIV," says Professor Philip Goulder, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Science at the University of Oxford. "However, our study suggests that this might not be the case. While most of the immune responses generated against HIV appear to be ineffective, responses targeting one particular HIV protein can bring about control of the virus."
About 40 million people are thought to be living with HIV worldwide. The virus, which causes AIDS, is thought to kill 3 million people each year. Despite being first identified in 1981, a vaccine to prevent infection has so far proved elusive.
When HIV infects the body, it hides out in so-called "helper T-cells". T cells play an important role in the immune response generated by the body to fight infection. There are a number of different types of T cells, each playing a different role in this battle. Helper T-cells (HTCs) regulate the body's immune response and it is the loss of these cells that leads to the development of AIDS.
Another type of T cell, the cytotoxic T cell (CTC), recognises and attacks infected HTCs. It was previously thought that the bigger the CTC response, the more effective it would be. It is this dogma that has influenced development of HIV vaccines, with the vaccines attempting to stimulate a large response.
However, Professor Goulder and colleagues found that the type of CTC response is crucial and that some types of response may have a negative effect and could actually hinder the immune response. The res