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Retro Goes Modern

The Evolution and Evasive Maneuvers of HIV

Co Authors:

Jeffrey J. Byrd
Biology Department
St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Samantha L. Elliott
Biology Department
St. Mary’s College of Maryland


This case study considers the evolution of HIV from SIV, as well as the evolution of HIV within humans by mutation rate. It also discusses the immune evasion proteins NEF and VPU, and how anti-retroviral drugs act to stall viral replication. Finally, the case looks at current strategies for developing an HIV vaccine, and the challenges we face in bringing a cure for HIV to fruition. Written to promote interdisciplinary connections between an upper-division virology class and an immunology class, the case is the second case in a set of three case studies. The other two cases, also published on this site, include "Chickens and Humans and Pigs... Oh My!" and "Hidden in Plain Sight: Immune Evasion by Herpes Simplex-1 Virus."

  • Explain the background information of their discipline to others (virology students: HIV structure and replication process; immunology students: overview of an entire immune response, with emphasis on the role of CD4 T cells).
  • Describe the basic mechanisms from the counterpar discipline.
  • Explain the evolution of HIV from SIV, and how this influences the spread of HIV in populations.
  • Describe how viral gene products can subvert the host immune response.
  • Explain how HIV infection can lead to AIDS.
  • Describe how anti-retroviral drugs reduce HIV viral load in patients.
  • Appreciate the limitations of current attempts in HIV vaccine initiatives.
  • Apply the mechanisms studied to future class content.
  • Locate, comprehend and evaluate popular press articles and scientific literature.
Keywords: Human immunodeficiency virus; HIV; Simian immunodeficiency virus; SIV; retrovirus; Retroviridae; infection; infectious disease; drug resistance; vaccination; immune evasion; immunity; immunology; virology; acquired immunodeficiency syndrome; AIDS
Topical Area: Science and the media
Educational Level: Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Analysis (Issues), Discussion, Interrupted, Journal Article
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biology (General)   Medicine (General)   Microbiology   Public Health   Interdisciplinary Sciences  
Date Posted: 3/30/2012
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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Supplemental Materials

The supplemental material below may be used with this case study:

  Click and Learn: Cells of the Immune System hhmi/
An 11-slide presentation with accompanying worksheet that describes the non-specific defense system called the innate and adaptive immune system. Produced by HHMI BioInteractive.


The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  HIV Life Cycle hhmi/
A short video clip explaining how HIV infects a cell and replicates itself using reverse transcriptase and the host's cellular machinery. Running time: 4:52 min. Produced by HHMI BioInteractive.

  AZT Blocks Reverse Transcriptase hhmi/
A short video animation showing how AZT stops reverse transcriptase because HIV's reverse transcriptase mistakes AZT for thymidine. Running time: 1:46 min. Produced by HHMI BioInteractive.second

  Protease Inhibitors hhmi/
A short video clip showing how protease inhibitors prevent maturation of viral proteins inside HIV particles. Running time: 1:06 min. Produced by HHMI BioInteractive.

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