Natural hosts for simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) can be, and are often naturally, infected with species-specific SIVs, but do not develop acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). These natural hosts maintain high SIV viral loads, but avoid immunodeficiency. Elucidating the mechanisms that allow natural hosts to coexist with SIV without overt disease may provide crucial information for understanding AIDS pathogenesis. Over the past few years, several key features of natural SIV infections have been described in studies conducted predominantly in sooty mangabeys (SMs), African green monkeys (AGMs), and mandrills. Natural SIV hosts are able to avoid the chronic, generalized immune system activation that is associated with disease progression in HIV-infected individuals and are known to downmodulate the expression of the receptors for SIV. In this perspective we propose that a critical factor that differentiates nonprogressive from progressive HIV or SIV infection is the maintenance of T cell immune competence in the face of a virus that infects and kills CD4+T cells. Elucidation of the mechanisms underlying the preservation of immune function during and after the acute phase of natural SIV infection may lead to the design of novel preventive and therapeutic interventions for treatment of chronic HIV infection. © 2010 Elsevier Inc.
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