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antibodies
Nov 5, 2002

Hi doctor,

My question is simple. How come antibodies to HIV in HIV infected people do not do a good job fighting the virus itself? Why are they just generated and serve no purpose, or am I wrong here? Do they neutralize some virus?

Response from Dr. Wohl

Good question. Turns out our immune systems are wired to respond to anything that comes along that it considers 'not self'. It can react to these 'foreign' trespassers in a number of potential ways including generating antibodies.

A bunch of different infections can enter our bodies and trigger an antibody response that does not help much in eliminating the germ. For instance in hepatitis C antibodies are made after infection but are not protective. Another extreme example is Ebola.

Fortunately, the immune system has a Plan B. This is the cellular arm of the system in which special white blood cells search the body for invaders and when they are found coordinate a response against them. This attack can even mean killing cells infected with the offending pathogen.

In HIV it is the same kind of story. Antibodies are not as effective as we would like in aborting infection and much of the dirty work is left up to cells that can kill other cell infected with the virus. Even in this case, the immune system can be ultimately ineffective and this is what differentiates curable and incurable infectious diseases.

You can see how vaccine development, which has traditionally relied on the elicting of an antibody response, is a major challenge when it comes to HIV. DW



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