Researchers have identified a mysterious new disease that has left scores of people in Asia and some in the United States with AIDS-like symptoms even though they are not infected with HIV. [bolding original]

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have identified a new disease among people in Asia that causes AIDS-like symptoms but is not associated with HIV.

Researchers have discovered an adult-onset immunodeficiency syndrome with symptoms similar to those of advanced HIV in Thailand and Taiwan.

An AIDS-like disease which attacks the immune system has swept Asia and parts of the U.S. in a bizarre pattern, bewildering doctors and researchers.

SPOILER: This has nothing to do with HIV/AIDS.  Nothing.  But I cant blame this fiasco on pop-media-- the article authors made a technically accurate, but nonetheless stupid, comment in their abstract.

Adult-Onset Immunodeficiency in Thailand and Taiwan

Neutralizing anti–interferon-γ autoantibodies were detected in 88% of Asian adults with multiple opportunistic infections and were associated with an adult-onset immunodeficiency akin to that of advanced HIV infection.

Interferon-gamma is a chemical messenger that plays A Big Role in the functioning of your immune system.  Your immune system has lots of redundancy, so it can take a hit or two, here and there, and you will still be okay.  But interferon-gamma acts in your innate immune branch, and adaptive immune branch. You need it to fight bacteria.  And viruses.  And cancer.  From Wikipedia:

  • Promotes NK cell activity
  • Increase antigen presentation and lysosome activity of macrophages.
  • Activate inducible Nitric Oxide Synthase iNOS
  • Induces the production of IgG2a and IgG3 from activated plasma B cells
  • Promotes Th1 differentiation by upregulating the transcription factor T-bet, ultimately leading to cellular immunity: cytotoxic CD8+ T-cells and macrophage activity - while suppressing Th2 differentiation which would cause a humoral (antibody) response
  • Cause normal cells to increase expression of class I MHC molecules as well as class II MHC on antigen presenting cells—specifically through induction of antigen processing genes, including subunits of the immunoproteasome (MECL1, LMP2, LMP7), as well as TAP and ERAAP in addition possibly to the direct upregulation of MHC heavy chains and B2-microglobulin itself
  • Promotes adhesion and binding required for leukocyte migration
  • Induces the expression of intrinsic defense factors—for example with respect to retroviruses, relevant genes include TRIM5alpha, APOBEC, and Tetherin, representing directly antiviral effects.

If youre interferon-gamma is non-functional for some reason, you are in a lot of trouble.

That is what happened to these folks.

For some reason, they have antibodies that neutralize their Interferon-gamma, kinda like how a tetanus vaccine gets you to make antibodies that neutralize the tetanus toxin.

Whatever these people have, its an autoimmune disease that is leading to defects in the function of these patients immune system.

Whatever these people have, while it is technically an 'immunodeficiency' like HIV/AIDS, its no more appropriate to make the HIV/AIDS analogy than it is to say 'LUPUS IS AIDS!' or 'SCIDS IS AIDS'.

Its not AIDS.

Its autoimmunity*.

And this story is interesting in and of itself-- it doesnt need alarmism, getting people scared, to get attention.




* Intelligently designed immune systems are perfect YAAAAAAY!

More like this

Dang! That would suck. Though it does remind me of a question I heard once at a dissretation defense: "Well, why don't they just give the herpes patients anti-CD4 antibodies?" Poor defender, there's no polite way to say "Because then the patient would die, obviously."

Do they have a suggested causal mechanism for the reason it's been found in this area first, or is it just good survelience for immunodefiency?

By JustaTech (not verified) on 24 Aug 2012 #permalink

I think its totally up in the air what is causing this-- It could be anything from genetics to an ear infection you got when you were two OR genetics plus an ear infection you got when you were two (or anything else).

But it is NOT caused by a virus killing a branch of their immune system (HIVAIDS).

ERV states: "But it is NOT caused by a virus killing a branch of their immune system (HIVAIDS)."

So, dumb question here: in HIV+ patients that develop interferon-gamma antibodies (autoimmune disease), is this an entirely unrelated event? Just a co-incidence?

Or is it possible that HIV infection can trigger autoimmune disease in patients? If so, how then can you be sure that there is no virus connected to this new syndrome?

Because if you have an autoimmune disease it can not possibly be caused by an underlying viral infection? Is that what you are saying?

I don't believe ERV was saying it couldn't be a viral cause or involve a viral trigger, Levi, just that you might better have said 'Lupus' rather that 'AIDS'. I could be wrong of course.

I mean we have been hearing some people claim a lot of things appear to result in 'AIDS-like symptoms' we have also heard some claim 'HIV does not cause AIDS' in similar vein.

It's headline grabbing, isn't it? We are all aware of the devastation that AIDS induced along with the panic and several diseases with no clear aetiology have used 'AIDS' as some sort of benchmark with which to compare in the media.

Nods towards ME and other conditions. You know how it will run. Someone says 'looks like AIDS symptomology to me' and the next thing you know - ITS AIDS!! SHIT!! GIMME THAT ANTI-RETROVIRAL AGENT RIGHT NOW!!

Well it doesn't appear to have been a viral trigger then:

'Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID, says it's important to note the disease is not contagious.

"It is not a virus, that's the first thing. It's not a new AIDS-like virus," Fauci said. "It's a syndrome that was noticed and discovered in Asia where people get opportunistic infections similar to HIV/AIDS, but the cause of the syndrome is not an infection like HIV."'…

You give on the one hand and take on the other:

No Virus to Blame for New AIDS-Like Disease—It’s an Autoimmune Response:…

but, 'Though the new syndrome’s cause remains mysterious, the study has discovered enough information for researchers to begin treating patients by shutting down the cells that produce anti-interferon-gamma antibodies.'

There is a large group of deniers already twisting this into "I told you so" aids is completely unrelated to that HIV thingy I got...

By mary (abbie's ilk) (not verified) on 24 Aug 2012 #permalink

Given sufficient motivation from the woo-selling crowd, stupid people will deny the sun is actually shining...

... meh.

"That's not sunlight. That's shining glory from gawd!"


By Bob Powers (not verified) on 25 Aug 2012 #permalink

Hi Jack, I think I would have the same question for Dr. Fauci:
My link above states: "High serum levels of antibodies to interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) have been found in patients infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).(snipped) These results enforce the hypothesis of the role of autoimmunization during the course of the disease."

So if it can happen with HIV, why not with an unknown/unresearched viral trigger? Some viruses are not very contagious or need other co-factors to infect. If this new syndrome is so rare, there can not be much epidemiology data yet to support any conclusion.

The better statement would be "we don't know if there is a viral association yet, there is no evidence for that at this point". Its important not to overstate the case. I remember in the 1980's the media and some scientists making up stuff about HIV and saying HIV/AIDS could only affect the gay/black populations. they were wrong.

Hi Mary,
HIV/AIDS deniers should not really steer the scientific communities' reaction to the media or new developments in the research of the immune system. What is needed is less spin not more. If it is unknown what causes something, it should be so stated. Let the following research/peer review system do the process of elimination.