UCy researchers find new strain of HIV-1

Molecular researchers at the University of Cyprus (UCy), in collaboration with the Gregorios AIDS Clinic at Larnaca general hospital, have discovered a new chimeric HIV-1 strain.

The new strain consists of four HIV-1 strains: CRF02_AG, G, J and U (U refers to an unknown subtype, which does not belong to any established subtype). This new strain was classified as a “new circulating recombinant form of HIV-1, designated as CRF91_cpx”, by the Los Alamos National Laboratory HIV Database (USA).

CRF91_cpx was discovered among 14 individuals with HIV-1 living in Cyprus. Currently, epidemiological analyses demonstrate that CRF91_cpx is circulating mainly among Cypriot men who have sex with men (MSM) who were infected in Cyprus.

After the initial discovery, ongoing phylogenetic analyses conducted with genomes of HIV-1 isolated from newly diagnosed patients in Cyprus identified two more Cypriot MSM who were infected with the CRF91_cpx strain.

Collectively, the data suggest an ongoing transmission of this new recombinant HIV-1 strain, CRF91_cpx, in Cyprus with currently unknown clinical manifestations.

The discovery was made by Çiçek Topçu and Vassilis Georgiou, post-doctoral students of the Laboratory of Molecular Virology of the Department of Biological Sciences of the UCy led by professor Leontios Kostrikis and Brian Thomas Foley of the Los Alamos National Laboratory HIV Database (USA). The research findings were published in the international medical journal Virulence1.

HIV-1 is a retrovirus known to cause the life-threatening acquired immunodeficiency syndrome AIDS that became a global pandemic in 1981. Unlike most pandemics, HIV-1/AIDS has persisted for more than 40 years and continues to be a global health threat to this day.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), since the beginning of the epidemic, approximately 79.3 million people have been infected with HIV-1 and nearly 36.3 million people have died from AIDS-related diseases.

Over the past 20 years, combination antiretroviral drug therapy (cART) has been developed to specifically target HIV-1 with remarkable success, resulting in a dramatic reduction in mortality and enabling most people infected to live normal lives symptom-free. However, development of a vaccine for prevention of transmission has proven to be extremely challenging due to the high genetic variability of the virus.