HIV/AIDS is currently a disease that is treatable but not curable. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is able to suppress HIV-1 replication without completely eliminating virus, with persisting low levels viremia (1-50 viral copies per ml) in most individuals undergoing HAART. Variations in treatment protocols appear to have little effect in completely eliminating infection and cessation of treatment results in a rebound of viral replication to levels seen prior to treatment. While the effects of long term HAART and the presence of persistent virus demand that we find alternative treatment strategies, we are largely ignorant of the origin of rebound virus and the details of how viral reservoirs are created and maintained. In this regard, a vast and comprehensive knowledge of HIV-1 basic biology may be our best chance at developing effective therapeutic and vaccine strategies, or even at eradication of the disease.
Our unit is involved in three main projects of HIV basic biology, namely i) antisense transcription, ii) gp120 variability and iii) viral tropism.