Researchers have identified a gene variant that appears to partially shield people whose behaviors entail high risk for exposure to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from becoming infected. The finding could point a way to medications that prevent HIV that has entered the body from establishing infection.
Dr. Eric O. Johnson at RTI International and colleagues found that participants in two large study cohorts who possessed the G allele of a single-nucleotide polymorphism in the FRMPD1 gene (rs4878712) had modestly lower odds of acquiring HIV infection than those with alternative alleles, after accounting for behavioral and environmental risk factors.
All participants in each cohort—the Urban Health Study (UHS; 3,136 males and females), and the Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WIHS; 2,533 females)—were considered to be at high risk for HIV infection related to their sexual, sexually transmitted disease, or drug-use histories. Using genome-wide association analysis, the researchers first established the gene-infection association with data from the UHS cohort and then replicated their finding in the WIHS cohort.
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Dr. Johnson and colleagues suggest that the pathway linking the FRMPD1 gene variant to reduced risk for HIV infection involves altered expression of two genes, FBOX10 and BCL2. The researchers found that the G allele of rs4878712 was associated with lower expression of the gene FBOX10, and that lower FBOX10 expression was associated with higher BCL2 expression (Figure 1). Greater expression of the BCL2 gene leads to higher levels of Bcl-2 protein, which other studies have shown to lower HIV replication during acute infection, and thereby reduce the likelihood of transition to persistent infection (Figure 2).
Although previous studies have estimated that half of a person’s risk for acquiring HIV infection depends on his or her genes, rs4878712 is only the second gene variant that researchers have associated with risk for infection. The finding is most significant for the insight it may provide into biological mechanisms that can facilitate or impede persistent HIV infection and could become targets for medications.
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This study was supported by NIH grants DA026141, DA097770, AI035004, and AI034989.
Johnson, E.O.; Hancock, D.B.; Gaddis, N.C., et al. Novel genetic locus implicated for HIV-1 acquisition with putative regulatory links to HIV replication and infectivity: A genome-wide association study. PLoS One 10(3), 2015. Full text and Correction
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NIDA. (2016, March 21). Gene Variant Is Associated With Reduced HIV Transmission. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2016/03/gene-variant-associated-reduced-hiv-transmission