Researchers Map How HIV Escapes Mother’s Immune Attack to Infect Infants

Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sallie Permar, M.D., Ph.D.

 Sallie Permar, M.D., Ph.D.

A vaccine that elicits broadly neutralizing antibodies could block this transmission 

Mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been reduced dramatically worldwide with the use of anti-retroviral therapies (ART), but even with these effective drugs, approximately 400 babies a day become infected before, during and after birth.

How this happens has been a question that complicates treatment and vaccine development strategies. Now researchers led by the Duke Human Vaccine Institute have provided some answers that could prove helpful as potential vaccines inch closer to testing.

The key to a specific maternal virus infecting the infant appears to be the virus’s ability to escape attack by antibodies in the mother’s blood, enabling transmission during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. The findings were published March 29 in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

“This finding is important for vaccine development,” said senior author Sallie Permar, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Laboratory of Neonatal Viral Pathogen Immunity at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. “We have shown that the ability of the mom’s antibodies to attack her own virus is an important contributor to the risk of mother-to-infant transmission, so we can now focus on using immune strategies to boost the responses against the mother’s virus.”

Read complete press release at Duke Health News & Communications