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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The biological context of HIV-1 host interactions reveals subtle insights into a system hijack

Jonathan E Dickerson1, John W Pinney2 and David L Robertson1*

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PT, UK

2 Division of Molecular Biosciences, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, London SW7 2AZ, UK

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BMC Systems Biology 2010, 4:80  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-4-80

Published: 7 June 2010



In order to replicate, HIV, like all viruses, needs to invade a host cell and hijack it for its own use, a process that involves multiple protein interactions between virus and host. The HIV-1, Human Protein Interaction Database available at NCBI's website captures this information from the primary literature, containing over 2,500 unique interactions. We investigate the general properties and biological context of these interactions and, thus, explore the molecular specificity of the HIV-host perturbation. In particular, we investigate (i) whether HIV preferentially interacts with highly connected and 'central' proteins, (ii) known phenotypic properties of host proteins inferred from essentiality and disease-association data, and (iii) biological context (molecular function, processes and location) of the host proteins to identify attributes most strongly associated with specific HIV interactions.


After correcting for ascertainment bias in the literature, we demonstrate a significantly greater propensity for HIV to interact with highly connected and central host proteins. Unexpectedly, we find there are no associations between HIV interaction and inferred essentiality. Similarly, we find a tendency for HIV not to interact with proteins encoded by genes associated with disease. Crucially, we find that functional categories over-represented in HIV-host interactions are innately enriched for highly connected and central proteins in the host system.


Our results imply that HIV's propensity to interact with highly connected and central proteins is a consequence of interactions with particular cellular functions, rather than being a direct effect of network topological properties. The lack of a propensity for interactions with phenotypically essential proteins suggests a selective pressure to minimise virulence in retroviral evolution. Thus, the specificity of HIV-host interactions is complex, and only superficially explained by network properties.