Viral Evolution and Transmission

Viral evolution and transmission


Group leader

Gabriella Scarlatti


The knowledge of the pathogenic mechanisms of infection and disease guide the development of intervention and prevention strategies and new HIV vaccine candidates. At this scope the group focuses mainly on models as mother-to-child transmission of HIV and disease progression in children and adults. In specific Viral evolution and transmission Unit determines the pathways of HIV within the intestinal mucosa, which is the site of viral entry, replication and persistence.

Research activity

Our main research interests are:

1. The mucosa, the main portal of entry of HIV via all routes of transmission, is the site of major immune subversion early after infection. Data indicate that Dendritic cells (DC) are an early target for HIV and may become a source of virus for the surrounding cells affecting in turn innate and adaptive immune responses. Therefore the group studies with sophisticated imaging technology in vitro and ex vivo: i) the molecular mechanism driving the migration of HIV through the intestinal epithelial barrier; ii) the cellular targets in the mucosa, in specific macrophages and DCs, to identify the possible pathways to invade the tissue and disseminate to other organs; iii) the involvement of DCs and their functional properties in mediating adaptive immune responses at mucosal level; and iv) the role of antibodies with different effector functions in changing the pathways of the virus.

2. The antibody response controlling HIV, as the desirable and ultimate immune response induced by an HIV vaccine. The unit focuses its attention on selected models as mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 or HIV infected patients controlling the disease or the virus, called Elite and Virus controller. Data show that infected children with slow progression of disease and Elite controllers develop neutralizing antibody and ADCC. Therefore the group: i) characterizes the specificity of these antibody responses to identify relevant targets for a vaccine; ii) developes new approaches to test antibody responses; and iii) adoptes the immunological analysis in preclinical (in rabbits and macaques) and clinical vaccines studies to identify predictive signatures for the development and prioritization of new HIV-1 vaccine candidates.