News Releases

HIV-like viruses in non-human primates have existed much longer than perviously thought

Study revises origins of simian AIDS viruses from tens of thoushands to more than 5 million years ago

SEATTLE – Jan. 24, 2013 - Viruses similar to those that cause AIDS in humans were present in non-human primates in Africa at least 5 million years ago and perhaps up to 12 million years ago, according to study published Jan. 24 in PLoS Pathogens by scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Until now, researchers have hypothesized that such viruses originated much more recently.

HIV-1, the virus responsible for AIDS, infiltrated the human population in the early 20th century following multiple transmissions of a similar chimpanzee virus known as SIVcpz. Previous work to determine the age of HIV-like viruses, called lentiviruses, by comparing their genetic blueprints has calculated their origin to be tens of thousands of years ago.

However, other researchers have suspected this time frame to be much too recent.

Michael Emerman, Ph.D., a virologist and member of the Human Biology Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Alex Compton, a graduate student in the Emerman Lab, describe the use of a technique to estimate the extent to which primates and lentiviruses have coexisted by tracking the changes in a host immunity gene called APOBEC3G that were induced by ancient viral challenges.

They report that this immunity factor is evolving in tandem with a viral gene, which allowed them to determine the minimum age for the association between primates and lentiviruses to be around 5 or 6 million years ago, and possibly up to 12 million years ago.

These findings suggest that HIV-like infections in primates are older than previously thought, and they have driven selective changes in antiviral genes that has incited an evolutionary arms race that continues to this day.

The study also confirms that viruses similar to HIV that are present in various monkey species today are the descendants of ancient pathogens in primates that have shaped how the immune system fights infections.

“More than 40 non-human primate species in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with strains of HIV-related viruses,” Emerman said. “Since some of these viruses may have the potential to infect humans as well, it is important to know their origins.”

This work was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Editor’s note: To obtain a copy of the PLoS Pathogens paper, “Convergence and divergence in the evolution of the APOBEC3G-Vif interaction reveal ancient origins of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus,” contact Kristen Woodward at kwoodwar@fhcrc.org or 206-667-5095.

# # #

At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer with minimal side effects. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation’s first and largest cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women’s Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Private contributions are essential for enabling Fred Hutch scientists to explore novel research opportunities that lead to important medical breakthroughs. For more information visit www.fhcrc.org or follow Fred Hutch on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

MEDIA CONTACT
Kristen Woodward
206-667-5095
kwoodwar@fhcrc.org

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.