Hiv vaccine mystery and viral shell disorder

Gerard Kian Meng Goh, A. Keith Dunker, James A. Foster, Vladimir N. Uversky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent for over three decades in the search for an effective human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccine with no success. There are also at least two other sexually transmitted viruses, for which no vaccine is available, the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Traditional textbook explanatory paradigm of rapid mutation of retroviruses cannot adequately address the unavailability of vaccine for many sexually transmissible viruses, since HSV and HCV are DNA and non-retroviral RNA viruses, respectively, whereas effective vaccine for the horsefly-transmitted retroviral cousin of HIV, equine infectious anemia virus (EIAV), was found in 1973. We reported earlier the highly disordered nature of proteins in outer shells of the HIV, HCV, and HSV. Such levels of disorder are completely absent among the classical viruses, such as smallpox, rabies, yellow fever, and polio viruses, for which effcient vaccines were discovered. This review analyzes the physiology and shell disorder of the various related and non-related viruses to argue that EIAV and the classical viruses need harder shells to survive during harsher conditions of non-sexual transmissions, thus making them vulnerable to antibody detection and neutralization. In contrast, the outer shell of the HIV-1 (with its preferential sexual transmission) is highly disordered, thereby allowing large scale motions of its surface glycoproteins and making it diffcult for antibodies to bind to them. The theoretical underpinning of this concept is retrospectively traced to a classical 1920s experiment by the legendary scientist, Oswald Avery. This concept of viral shapeshifting has implications for improved treatment of cancer and infections via immune evasion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number178
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Glycoconjugate
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis
  • Herpes
  • Immune escape
  • Intrinsic disorder
  • Polio
  • Rabies
  • Smallpox
  • Unstructured
  • Yellow fever

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology

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