HIV-Like Virus Found in Gorillas

November 9, 2006

A form of HIV has been found in wild gorillas in western central Africa. This is the first time the AIDS-causing virus has been detected in primates other than chimps and humans.

It is also the "first time someone has looked at HIV infection in wild living gorillas," said Martine Peeters, a virologist at the French government's Institut de Recherche Pour le Développement and at the University of Montpellier, France.

"We found they were infected—and to our surprise are infected with a virus which is closely related to the one we find in chimpanzees and also in humans."

Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) was detected in gorilla populations more than 250 miles (400 kilometers) apart, suggesting that SIV may be common and widespread in the lowland gorilla subspecies.

Peeters is the lead author of a study published today in the journal Nature. She says chimpanzees may have transmitted the virus to gorillas.

Reservoir Species

The gorilla virus is closely related to HIV-1 group O, one of three HIV groups known to infect humans.

A different viral strain, HIV-1 group M, is responsible for the current global HIV/AIDS pandemic. Some 40 million people are currently infected, and an estimated 25 million have died of AIDS.

The team of international scientists used antibody tests and RNA analysis on hundreds of chimp and gorilla fecal samples collected in the remote forests of Cameroon (Cameroon map, facts, and music). RNA, or ribonucleic acid, helps control chemical activities in cells.

Researchers did not survey the mountain gorilla subspecies, which lives in East Africa.

Earlier this year the same team reported that the chimpanzees in southeast Cameroon were the primary reservoir of the HIV-1 group M virus.

At the time, the researchers also suggested the chimps were the reservoir for a second, less common HIV-1 strain known as group N. Group N is currently responsible for only about ten human HIV cases in Cameroon.

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