AIDS and Its Causes


In June 1981, the centers for The Disease Control of the United States
reported that five young homosexual men in the Los Angels area had contracted
Pneumocystis Carinii pneumonia( a kind of pneumonia that is particularly found
in AIDS patient). 2 of the patients had died. This report signalled the
begninning of an epidemic of a viral disease characterized by immunosuppression
associated with opportunistic infection( an infection caused by a microrganism
that does not normally produce disease in human; it occurs in persons with
abnomality functioning immune system), secondary neoplasms( any abnormal growth
of new tissue, benign or malignant) and neurologic mainfestation, which has come
to be known as AIDS.
Though Aids was first discovered in U.S.A, AIDS has been reported from
more than 163 countries around the world and an estimated 10 million people are
infected worldwide. Worsestill, the pool of HIV- infected persons in Africa is
large and expanding.


Studies in the U.S.A. have retentified five groups of adults at risk for
developing AIDS. The case distribution in these groups are as follows: (1).
Homosexuals or bisexual males constitute the largest group, about 60% of the
reported cases. This includes 5% who were intravenuous drug as well. (2).
Intravenous drug users with no previous history of homosexuality compose the
next largest group, about 23% of all patients. (3). Hemophiliacs (the people who
have inborn disease characterized by excesssive bleeding and occuring only in
males) especially those who received factor VIII concentrate before 1985, about
1% of all patients. (4). Recipents of blood and blood components who are not
hemophiliacs but who received tranfusions of HIV-infected whole blood components
(e.g. platelet, plasma) account for 2 %. (5). Other high risk groups: 86% of
patients acquire disease through heterosexual contacts with members of other
high risk groups. 80% of children with AIDS have a HIV-infected parents and
suffer from transplacental or perinatal transmission.
Thus from the preceding discussion, it should be aparent that
transmission of HIV occurs under conditions that facilitate exchange of blood
fluids containing the virus-infected cells. Hence, the three major routes of
transmission are sexual contact , parenteral routes( ie adminstration of a
substance not through the digestive system) and the passage of the virus from
infected mothers to their new borns where are mainly by three routes: in the
womb by transplacental spread, during delivery through a infected birth canal,
and after birth by ingestion of breast milk.


It is little doubt that AIDS is caused by HIV-I, a human type C
retrovirus ( RNA virus the contains the enzyme, reverse transcriptase , to
replicate its RNA genome to DNA) in the same family as the animal lentivirus
family. It is also closely related to HIV- II, which cause a similiar disease,
primarily in Africa.

3.1 Biology of HIV-I ( please refer to fig. 1)

HIV is a retrovirus inducing immunodeficiency by destruction of target T
cells. Like most C-type retrovirus, it is spherical and contains a electron-
dense core surrounded by a lipid envelop derived from the host cell membrane.
The virus core contains four core proteins, including p24 and p18, two strands
of genomic RNA and the enzyme reverse transcriptase. Studding the envelope are
two glycoprotein gp120 and gp41 and the former one is important in binding the
host CD4+ molecules to cause viral infection. And the proviral genome contains
several genes that are not present in the other retrovirus. Many genes such as
tat and rev regulate the HIV propagation and hence may be targeted for therapy.

3.2 The Development of AIDS

There are two major targets of HIV: the immune system and the central
nervous system (CNS). The effects of HIV infection on each of these will be
discussed seperately.
3.2.1HIV infection of lymphocyte & Monocytes -- the immune system (fig. 2
& fig.3)
Central to the pathogenesis of AIDS is the depletion of CD4+ helper T cells.
The CD4 antigen is the high affinity receptor to the gp120 protein on HIV-I.
After binding to the host cell, the virus is internalized and the genome
undergoes reverse transcription; the proviral DNA is then integrated in to the
genome of host. Transcription or translation and viral propagation may
subsequently occur only with T-cell activation (e.g. antigenic stimulation). In
the absence of T-cell activation, the infection enters a latent phase.
For the infected monocytes and macrophages they are refractory to cell
breakdown caused by virus and thus they either act as reservioirs for HIV or as
vehicles for viral transport, expecially to the central nervous system.
In addition to T-cell depletion, there are also qualitative defects in
T-cell functions with a