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Study: Gene mutation can be shield against HIV infection


August 9, 1996
Web posted at: 12:30 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Rhonda Rowland

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Scientists have long been baffled by people who are repeatedly exposed to HIV through infected sex partners but never catch the virus that causes AIDS.

They are the ones who ignore the advice of the public health experts who have stressed for decades: To avoid getting AIDS through sex, use a condom or abstain. Now, new research is revealing that the people who manage to evade the virus may have mutated genes.

"It's a rare individual. Within the Western Hemisphere, 1 percent inherit the gene allowing them to resist HIV," Dr. Richard Kaup of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center explained.

According to the results of a study by his researchers, published in the latest edition of Cell journal, an alteration in a gene called CKR-5 allows some people to resist HIV infection.

A group of Belgian scientists reported the same genetic finding in another journal, Nature. They found the gene mutation only in Western Europeans; it was missing in people from Central Africa or Japan.


People who have the gene mutation inherited one copy of the gene from each parent, Kaup said. Scientists don't yet know whether two copies will provide 100 percent protection against HIV, or whether people with only one copy also benefit.

About 20 percent of Western Europeans may have inherited only one copy of the gene. Researchers still don't know how many groups in the population have the ability to inherit one or two copies of the mutant gene. Having one copy may help explain why some people who get HIV go years without getting sick, while others develop AIDS and die quickly.

Scientists from the National Institutes of Health say the finding may help them better understand how HIV works.

"It will tell us an awful lot about the mechanisms whereby the virus enters cells in the body," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci said the finding also could serve as "the basis to develop what might turn out to be some interesting therapeutic strategies," such as a new treatment that could prevent those already infected with the HIV virus from getting sick.


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