The Lab Notes

The main theme of our research is to understand how gene regulation and genome organization tie in with each other. The Lab Notes are the latest headlines from the lab, featuring a collection of random thoughts and useful code snippets.

Silence is a weapon — HIV latency

I have been inspired to study virology by the movie Outbreak directed by Wolfgang Petersen in 1995. Since that time, I have been wondering how this tiny monster is so powerful as to bring disasters in our daily life. With this question always in the back of my mind, I walked into the world of microbes trying to reveal its mystery.

My current work in the laboratory is on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus type 1 (HIV-1), which causes Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The phenomenon that most caught my attention is that HIV-1 is able to keep itself silent during the infection, which is called latency. Latent viruses are like a dormant volcano; they can be reactivated any time in favourable conditions. Therefore HIV-1-infected patients need to receive Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) with no interruption. Plasma virus rises within two to three weeks after discontinuation of HAART (from 20 to 50 RNA copies per mL, see Davey et al., 1999 for detail).

In order to be silent and invisible, HIV-1 needs secret places to hide and to make the infection persistent. Such special environments are called reservoirs, where viruses persist for longer...