A version of a gene that decreases the risk of malaria in Africans appears to increase the risk of HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new report.
The gene in question encodes for a protein called DARC, which is found on red blood cells. DARC is known to bind to the parasite that causes malaria and increase susceptibility to the disease.
The new findings, published in the in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, however, indicate that DARC is also important in releasing chemicals that attack HIV.
In sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest rates of HIV infection in the world, most people have a version of the gene that results in the absence of DARC. While this helps protect them against malaria, it leaves them more susceptibility to infection with HIV.
"This is one of the first genetic factors particularly common in Africans that has been shown to confer more susceptibility to HIV, senior author Dr Robin A. Weiss, from University College London, said in a statement.
The good news is that although the lack of DARC increases the odds of acquiring HIV, once infection has occurred, it is associated with slower disease progression. - (Reuters Health)
SOURCE: Cell Host & Microbe, July 17, 2008.