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The role of blood groups in preventing or enhancing HIV infection in Botswana
Motswaledi, Modisa Sekhamo
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Knowledge of population vulnerabilities to infectious diseases is key in managing many public health problems and for mapping appropriate strategies for prevention or intervention. A number of genes associated with resistance to HIV infection, such as the double deletion of 32 base pairs in the CCR5 gene , have been described and potentially account for lower HIV infections in some populations. The magnitude of the HIV pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa warrants an investigation of the peculiar genetic factors that may have exacerbated its spread. An understanding of the genetic factors that are involved may aid in the development of specific strategies for prevention such as vaccine development, genetic counselling as well as gene therapy. The aim of this project was therefore to study the relationship between blood groups and HIV-infection in Botswana. HIV infection in Africa has not been linked to particular blood groups. The project was undertaken in two phases from December 2012 to December 2017. In the first phase, 346 subjects of known HIV status (negative or positive) were phenotyped for 23 erythrocyte antigens via standard scientific procedures. A Chi-square analysis was used to determine those antigens associated with increased or reduced risk of HIV infection. In the second phase, 120 samples were phenotyped for the protective blood group (RhC) and the risk-associated groups (Lub and P1). The samples were also characterized according to their laboratory results for viral load, lymphocyte sub-populations, complete blood count and blood chemistry, including total cholesterol. Some of the samples were also assessed for erythrocyte-associated viral RNA. Generally, the prevalence of the blood groups in the general population in Botswana did not differ with the known prevalence for Africans broadly. Three novel findings were established. First, the blood group Rh(C) was associated with a 40% risk reduction for HIV infection. Immunologically, carriage of the C antigen was associated with a more robust cell-mediated immunity as evidenced by enhanced cytotoxic T cell counts. Moreover, this antigen occurred with a frequency lower than 30% in all countries where HIV prevalence was high. There was therefore an inverse relationship between Rh(C) frequency and HIV prevalence. An examination of reports from previous studies revealed that the pattern was consistent in Africa, Europe, Asia, South America and Caribbean countries. It appears that the population frequency of this antigen explains, at least in part, a genetic factor that puts some African populations at higher risk for HIV infection. These results are novel in that Rh antigens have not been previously associated with immunity in any reports. Novel findings regarding the P1 blood group was its association with a double risk for HIV infection. While the plasma viral load did not differ between P1-positive and P1-negative subjects, P1-positive erythrocyte lysate yielded more viral RNA than P1-negative cells, implying more intracellular HIV RNA. Intra-erythrocytic viral RNA was detected even in patients with an undetectable plasma viral load. Glycosphingolipids, of which P1 is an example, have been documented to promote viral fusion to cells independent of CD4 receptors or other ligands. In at least one report, the presence of sphingolipids in lipid rafts was considered to be sufficient for viral fusion. The presence of viral RNA even in erythrocyte lysates corroborates this phenomenon and potentially explains the double risk of HIV infection observed. The occurrence of HIV RNA in erythrocyte lysate is a novel finding that suggests a new viral reservoir. Apparently, P1 has a high frequency among Africans and low in other races.