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Open Access Research article

Understanding the HIV coreceptor switch from a dynamical perspective

Christel Kamp

Author Affiliations

Paul-Ehrlich-Institut, Paul-Ehrlich-Straße 51-59, 63225 Langen, Germany

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:274  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-274

Published: 30 November 2009

Abstract

Background

The entry of HIV into its target cells is facilitated by the prior binding to the cell surface molecule CD4 and a secondary coreceptor, mostly the chemokine receptors CCR5 or CXCR4. In early infection CCR5-using viruses (R5 viruses) are mostly dominant while a receptor switch towards CXCR4 occurs in about 50% of the infected individuals (X4 viruses) which is associated with a progression of the disease. There are many hypotheses regarding the underlying dynamics without yet a conclusive understanding.

Results

While it is difficult to isolate key factors in vivo we have developed a minimal in silico model based on the approaches of Nowak and May to investigate the conditions under which the receptor switch occurs. The model allows to investigate the evolution of viral strains within a probabilistic framework along the three stages of disease from primary and latent infection to the onset of AIDS with a a sudden increase in viral load which goes along with the impairment of the immune response. The model is specifically applied to investigate the evolution of the viral quasispecies in terms of R5 and X4 viruses which directly translates into the composition of viral load and consequently the question of the coreceptor switch.

Conclusion

The model can explain the coreceptor switch as a result of a dynamical change in the underlying environmental conditions in the host. The emergence of X4 strains does not necessarily result in the dominance of X4 viruses in viral load which is more likely to occur in the model after some time of chronic infection. A better understanding of the conditions leading to the coreceptor switch is especially of interest as CCR5 blockers have recently been licensed as drugs which suppress R5 viruses but do not seem to necessarily induce a coreceptor switch.