2024-01-12| R&D

Study Finds High Viral Loads Fuel Higher HIV Recombination Rates

by Sinead Huang
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HIV, known for its formidable resistance and adaptability, has long presented challenges due to its high recombination rate. Recombination allows genetic information exchange among virus strains, driving HIV’s evolution within the host. The new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Washington, published in Molecular Biology and Evolution explores how variations in viral loads impact HIV recombination rates, shedding light on the virus’s evolutionary strategies.

Related article: New White Blood Cell Subtype as HIV Reservoir Identified

Coinfection’s Role in HIV Recombination

An overlooked aspect of HIV recombination is coinfection, where two distinct virus particles infect the same cell. This process influences the exchange of genetic material and potentially impacts the virus’s ability to diversify. While previous studies on cell cultures and mice suggested a link between increased coinfection and higher rates of recombinant viruses, this study investigates whether such findings hold true in people living with HIV.

To test their hypothesis that higher viral loads correlate with increased coinfection and subsequent recombination, researchers developed a novel method called Recombination Analysis via Time Series Linkage Decay (RATS-LD). This approach allowed them to quantify recombination by analyzing genetic associations between mutations over time. The results revealed a significant correlation between high viral loads and elevated rates of HIV recombination, challenging previous estimates.

Implications Beyond HIV and Population Density

The study’s findings extend beyond HIV, suggesting that recombination rates can be more context-dependent than previously understood. The effective rate of recombination across various organisms, including bacteria and plants, may be influenced by factors like population density. As geneticists continue to delve into the intricacies of recombination, the study contributes valuable insights into how viruses adapt and evolve, offering potential implications for broader fields of genetics and virology.

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