The discovery of a new recombinant HIV-1 strain in Cyprus was recently announced, with the name “CRF91_cpx”, by scientists from the University of Cyprus, and the National HIV Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico in the US.
According to an announcement by the University of Cyprus, molecular research on HIV-1 was carried out at the University of Cyprus in collaboration with the Gregorios AIDS Clinic of the Larnaca General Hospital, leading to the discovery of a new recombinant (chimeric) HIV-1 strain, consisting of four HIV-1 strains: CRF02_AG, G, J and U (U refers to an unknown subtype, which does not belong to any established subtype). This new recombinant HIV-1 strain was classified as a new circulating recombinant form of HIV-1 and designated as “CRF91_cpx” by the Los Alamos National Laboratory HIV Database (USA). The results of this discovery, it adds, were published on August 18, 2022 by the prestigious international medical journal Virulence.
"The question is, ‘was it created in Cyprus or was it imported to Cyprus’? The answer is that we don't know at the moment," -Dr. Kostrikis
CRF91_cpx was discovered among 16 individuals with HIV-1 living in Cyprus, 14, whose samples were used for the study and two discovered after the publication of the study. “Currently, epidemiological analyses demonstrate that CRF91_cpx is circulating mainly among Cypriot men who have sex with men (MSM) who were infected in Cyprus,” the university announcement said. After the initial discovery, it adds, ongoing phylogenetic analyses conducted with genomes of HIV-1 isolated from newly diagnosed patients in Cyprus identified two more Cypriot MSM who were infected with the CRF91_cpx strain. “Collectively, the data suggest an ongoing transmission of this new recombinant HIV-1 strain, CRF91_cpx, in Cyprus with currently unknown clinical manifestations,” it said.
The discovery was made by Çiçek Topçu and Vassilis Georgiou of the Laboratory of Molecular Virology of the Department of Biological Sciences of the University of Cyprus led by Academic Professor Leondios Kostrikis and Dr. Brian Thomas Foley of the Los Alamos National Laboratory HIV Database (USA).
Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Cyprus and Head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology, Dr. Leondios Kostrikis, told CNA that the findings were “very important” because it shows the complexity with which this virus is evolving and, possibly, other viruses as well. It is important to note, he added, that the HIV epidemic has been ongoing for 40 years, since the early 1980s, "and the complexity of the genetic strains has reached a very high level, to the point where it is impossible, in my humble opinion, to create a preventive vaccine at this time, precisely because of the complex genetic evolution of this virus."
Asked by CNA if this strain exists only in Cyprus, Dr. Kostrikis said that at the moment it has not been identified anywhere else. "The question is, ‘was it created in Cyprus or was it imported to Cyprus’? The answer is that we don't know at the moment," he said. But now that the study has been published and information about the virus genomes has been registered with international databases at Los Alamos, scientists around the world can compare the genomes of their own countries and see if they too have this genome, now that it has been identified, he added. He said that, probably, a large part of the genome, maybe not in the complexity that was identified, was imported to Cyprus from West Africa, because one of the people involved was living in the area, but that, probably, the evolution continued in Cyprus.
As to whether this will also help in the development of medical treatment for HIV patients, Dr. Kostrikis said that at the moment, they are studying, in collaboration with the clinical infectious disease specialists of the Gregorios AIDS Clinic, the progression of the disease in these patients, from the day of sampling, which was very close to their diagnosis, to ascertain whether the course of development is different from people infected with a different genotype, or whether they show some differentiation as regards their treatment.
The discovery is part of the Ph.D. of Çiçek Topçu and the master’s thesis M.Sc. of Vasilis Georgiou of the Molecular Virology Laboratory of the University of Cyprus.
The link to the publication is https://doi.org/10.1080/21505594.2022.2106021.