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The HIV-1 pandemic: does the selective sweep in chimpanzees mirror humankind’s future?

Natasja G de Groot1* and Ronald E Bontrop12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Comparative Genetics and Refinement, Biomedical Primate Research Centre, Lange Kleiweg 161, 2288 GJ Rijswijk, The Netherlands

2 Department of Theoretical Biology and Bioinformatics, Utrecht University, 3584 CH Utrecht, The Netherlands

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Retrovirology 2013, 10:53  doi:10.1186/1742-4690-10-53

Published: 24 May 2013


An HIV-1 infection progresses in most human individuals sooner or later into AIDS, a devastating disease that kills more than a million people worldwide on an annual basis. Nonetheless, certain HIV-1-infected persons appear to act as long-term non-progressors, and elite control is associated with the presence of particular MHC class I allotypes such as HLA-B*27 or -B*57. The HIV-1 pandemic in humans arose from the cross-species transmission of SIVcpz originating from chimpanzees. Chimpanzees, however, appear to be relatively resistant to developing AIDS after HIV-1/SIVcpz infection. Mounting evidence illustrates that, in the distant past, chimpanzees experienced a selective sweep resulting in a severe reduction of their MHC class I repertoire. This was most likely caused by an HIV-1/SIV-like retrovirus, suggesting that chimpanzees may have experienced long-lasting host-virus relationships with SIV-like viruses. Hence, if natural selection is allowed to follow its course, prospects for the human population may look grim, thus underscoring the desperate need for an effective vaccine.

AIDS; Chimpanzee; HIV-1; HLA; Human; MHC; Repertoire reduction; SIVcpz; Zoonosis