Emory Vaccine Center
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine
Georgia Research Alliance
Yerkes National Primate Research Center
Emory Center for AIDS Research
Dr. Hunter's research is primarily centered on understanding the host and viral factors that modulate HIV heterosexual transmission and early viral disease in African populations, with the goal of applying this knowledge to HIV vaccine development. Previous work in the Hunter laboratory has demonstrated that transmission of HIV is, in a majority of cases, established by a single genetic variant derived from the diverse population of HIV variants in the transmitting partner’s viral quasispecies. This virus does not appear to be abundant in the genital tract of the transmitting partner, consistent with selection for a more transmissible virus during sexual transmission. Because the virus that initiates infection is the one that preventative vaccines must stop, a high priority of the Hunter laboratory is to elucidate the structural and functional differences between this virus and the majority of non-transmitted variants in the transmitting partner in order to better target vaccines to them. The recruitment of heterosexual HIV transmission pairs also allows us to investigate the impact of both innate and adaptive immune responses on HIV transmission and early HIV pathogenesis. Dr. Hunter’s research group has recently shown that the replicative potential and pathogenic capacity of the transmitted virus is affected by mutations selected for by the immune response in the transmitting partner. Ongoing studies in collaboration with investigators around the world are aimed at understanding the effect of these viral changes on early infection events, immune activation and virus replication at a molecular level. The knowledge gained from characterizing unique features of the transmitted viruses, and the impact of immune escape on transmission and pathogenesis, will be critical for the development of an effective HIV vaccine.