What happens to chimpanzees after infection with the chimpanzee-AIDS virus?

24 September 2015

BPRC - 1. What happens to chimpanzees after infection with the chimpanzee-AIDS virus?

The HIV/AIDS pandemic originates from cross-species transmission of the AIDS virus from chimpanzees to humans. Many African monkeys are infected with SIV, but those studied in captivity generally do not develop disease. However, wild chimpanzees infected with the chimpanzee-AIDS virus are at increased risk of death and may develop an AIDS-like disease. Is this because they live in the wild, or is it due to differences between simian AIDS viruses and chimpanzee and human AIDS viruses?

Scientists from several countries have joined forces to examine this by using archived samples from chimpanzees that were infected in the wild, but have grown up in primate centers, including the BPRC. Later in life, these animals were transferred to other centers, where annual blood samples were taken to monitor the health of the animals and which could also be used to examine the effects of the chimpanzee virus.

Even after 25 years of infection the chimpanzees did not develop AIDS-like disease. This is similar to other primate species that do not contract disease by the virus. However, it was observed that certain parts of the chimpanzee immune system were significantly affected. As wild chimpanzees are likely to be exposed to a multitude of germs, a weakened immune system caused by the chimpanzee virus may have serious consequences. It therefore appears that, although chimpanzees are partially immune to the AIDS virus, they can become weakened by infection with the virus. This work was published in the leading online magazine PlosPathogens.