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HIV Takes Advantage of Rivalry among T cells

Houston: A novel HIV study has demonstrated how intense struggle among the human immune system's T cells gives the leeway to the virus to survive harm and take on a more virulent form, developing into the advanced stages of AIDS. // The study, which uses a computer model of simultaneous virus and immune system evolution, also gives a hint of a new strategy for using vaccines against the virus. The research, which is slated for publication in Physical Review Letters, is available online at http://arxiv.org/abs/q-bio.PE/0610018.

"Competition among T cells exerts a small influence for most diseases, but it's fatal for HIV," said study co-author Michael Deem, Rice University's John W. Cox Professor in Biochemical and Genetic Engineering and professor of physics and astronomy.

The new computer model, created by Deem and Guanyu Wang, now an assistant professor of physics at George Washington University, is the first to accurately reproduce all three stages of HIV infection. The first is marked by an initial spike in virus production that's immediately followed by dramatic drop as the immune system recognizes the threat, mounts a defense and destroys most of the invading viruses. The second phase is a long period of clinical latency that can last up to 10 years. In this phase, a small amount of virus mutates fast enough to escape initial detection and continues to mutate over time. The third phase, AIDS, occurs when the virus has changed so much that the body's T cells are no longer effective at keeping it in check.

Deem and Wang's computer model accurately describes all three phases of HIV infection by incorporating a key component: competition among T cells. The model includes two forms of competition. The first form leads to a phenomenon known as deceptive imprinting, or original antigenic sin. Original antigenic sin is the tendency for memory immune cells produced in response to a first viral infection to suppress the creation of new immun
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