Chimpanzees and HIV

One of the constant drumbeats from animal rights activists is that animal models of HIV have given surprisingly little information. This is incorrect on many levels — in fact HIV tests themselves are nothing more than sophisticated animal tests. Now comes news from the Journal of Infectious Diseases that three chimpanzees infected with HIV in the 1980s are finally progressing to full-blown AIDS-like symptoms, giving researchers a prime chance to get a better handle on how and why HIV progresses to AIDS in human beings.

Most chimpanzees infected with the disease don’t progress to disease symptoms. There are several theories as to why this is the case, one of which is that the chimpanzee’s immune system evolved to simply ignore HIV-like diseases. Since chimpanzee immune systems don’t attack the disease, HIV is unable to latch on to the T-cells it needs.

If this is the case, the three chimpanzees progressing to AIDS may have deficient immune systems or may have contracted a form of HIV that their immune system does elicit a response to. Either way researchers hope comparing the chimpanzees that develop AIDS to their brethren that don’t will provide a better understanding of how the disease runs its course and perhaps offer clues to how the disease operates and can be counteracted in human beings.


Chimps may hold important piece of HIV puzzle. Amy Norton, Reuters, September 20, 2000.

The Journal of Infectious Diseases 2000; 182.

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