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Scientists Discover How HIV Is Transmitted Between Men

Finding could lead to new vaccines, treatments, researchers say

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report that they've discovered the origin of strains of the AIDS virus that affect gay and bisexual men.

"By knowing the origin of the transmitted virus, scientists may be able to develop new vaccines, vaginal microbicides and drugs to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted HIV," study author Dr. Davey Smith, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego, said in a university news release.

At issue is the HIV in semen, which is made up of seminal cells and a fluid called seminal plasma. HIV particles with RNA inside exist in the fluid, while the seminal cells hold the DNA of HIV, the study authors explained.

The researchers used a type of genetic analysis to study men who had sexually transmitted their HIV to other men.

"Until now, it had not been established whether HIV RNA or DNA is transmitted during sex," said Smith. "By analyzing the genetic differences between these two forms and the virus that was ultimately transmitted to newly infected individuals, we found that it was the HIV RNA form present in seminal plasma that was transmitted."

What about HIV transmission to women? "Since the vast majority of women are infected with HIV by exposure to the virus in semen, HIV RNA in the seminal plasma is the likely culprit, but this needs to be confirmed," Smith added.

The study findings are published in the Feb. 10 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on AIDS.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCES: University of California, San Diego, news release, Feb. 10, 2010

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