As terrifying as viruses are, you have to admit, there is something absolutely incredible about them. Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. Through this day, we honor those who currently have, had, and eventually will have a lifelong infection of HIV. HIV or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a subject of great interest to me. I am not only blown away by the after-effects of this virus but also by the very processes through which is it is able to compromise the human immune system. Actually, HIV’s very existence blows my mind.
By targeting our T-helper cells via their CD4+ and CCR5 receptors, HIV is able to “hijack” the perfect host cell that will then proceed to rapidly replicate its viral genome. What I find truly crazy is how successful this virus is at doing its main job: replicating.
Let me remind you, though this may be seen as controversial, most people would probably agree that viruses are non-living things. Where they come from is somewhat of a mystery to us. Having said that, how incredible is it that this little “viral” package has all of the components necessary to perfectly hijack a cell from our immune system.
Each individual HIV has three vital replication enzymes: reverse transcriptase, integrase, and protease. Once HIV is inside of a human cell, reverse transcriptase begins the reverse transcription process of its viral RNA. Integrase takes this newly formed viral DNA and integrates it into our cells genome. Then Protease chops the newly formed viral proteins so new HIV can be assembled. Eventually, the newly assembled viruses will bud out of the cell’s membrane causing the T-helper cell to burst and die. When enough of these immune cells die off, a person is said to have AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency disorder because they have a weakened capacity to fight off infection.
Perhaps someone else know the answer to this… but I would love to know how HIV acquired these enzymes that work so perfectly to integrate its viral RNA into our DNA-filled cells. Was it a coincidence? How did all of the necessary components come together? It seems like such a smooth process, almost easy for HIV, when you’d expect our bodies to have more barriers in place.
Luckily, Antiretroviral Drugs or ARVs are able to help prevent the replication of HIV but it is not a cure. Once HIV has infected one of your cells, you have it forever. (Though the same could be said about other viruses like herpes simple virus-1 and chickenpox, etc.)
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