Is There a Genetic Basis for Health Disparities in Human Immunodeficiency Virus Disease?



The highest global prevalence rates for human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome have been recorded in southern Africa; in the United States, individuals of African descent are disproportionately affected by human immunodeficiency virus infection. Human immunodeficiency virus–infected individuals with African ancestry are also estimated to have a 17-fold or greater risk for developing human immunodeficiency virus–associated nephropathy in comparison with their counterparts of non-African descent. Several recent studies have implicated genetic alleles that are more frequent in populations of African descent and increase the risk of human immunodeficiency virus infection and the risk of human immunodeficiency virus–associated neuropathy (HIVAN). The supposition that persons of African descent are more susceptible to human immunodeficiency virus infection because of an underlying genetic predisposition is not supported by available evidence. However, strong, replicated data show that the increased risk for human immunodeficiency virus–associated nephropathy, as well as other major forms of kidney disease in individuals of African descent, is due in part to MYH9 (myosin, heavy chain 9, non-muscle) renal disease susceptibility alleles that are very frequent throughout sub-Saharan Africa but are infrequent or absent in non-Africans. Selection, drift, and demographic events shape the allelic architecture of the human genome: it is expected that these events will be reflected in geographic-specific differentiation in allele frequencies for a small subset of alleles that may be associated with either increased or reduced risk for complex and infectious diseases. Mt Sinai J Med 77:149–159, 2010. © 2010 Mount Sinai School of Medicine