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Evolution of the HIV-1 nef gene in HLA-B*57 Positive Elite Suppressors

Maria Salgado1, Timothy P Brennan1, Karen A O'Connell1, Justin R Bailey1, Stuart C Ray1, Robert F Siliciano12 and Joel N Blankson1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 733 N. Broadway, Baltimore MD 21205, USA

2 Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 733 N. Broadway, Baltimore MD 21205, USA

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Retrovirology 2010, 7:94  doi:10.1186/1742-4690-7-94

Published: 8 November 2010

Abstract

Elite controllers or suppressors (ES) are HIV-1 infected patients who maintain viral loads of < 50 copies/ml without antiretroviral therapy. CD8+ T cells are thought to play a key role in the control of viral replication and exert selective pressure on gag and nef in HLA-B*57 positive ES. We previously showed evolution in the gag gene of ES which surprisingly was mostly due to synonymous mutations rather than non-synonymous mutation in targeted CTL epitopes. This finding could be the result of structural constraints on Gag, and we therefore examined the less conserved nef gene. We found slow evolution of nef in plasma virus in some ES. This evolution is mostly due to synonymous mutations and occurs at a rate similar to that seen in the gag gene in the same patients. The results provide further evidence of ongoing viral replication in ES and suggest that the nef and gag genes in these patients respond similarly to selective pressure from the host.