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What is the HIV life cycle?

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The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, has a complex life cycle that entails leapfrogging from one type of immune system cell to another as the infection progresses, according to AIDS.gov. Though the virus can infect many different cells, the type of cell most commonly associated with HIV is the CD4 lymphocyte, or T-cell. It is inside this cell that HIV undergoes its most characteristic life cycle stages.

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On coming into contact with a CD4 cell, HIV binds with receptor ports on the surface of the cell. Once this connection is made, HIV is free to fuse with, or inject its genetic material into, the host cell. The next step, according to AIDS.gov, is reverse transcription. During this stage, HIV uses a special protein to alter its own genetic material for integration with the host DNA, which is the next stage.

After integration, the intruder begins transcription, which is the phase that entails the T-cell's own proteins being used to assemble more HIV genes for eventual release into the body. During assembly, the next stage, long HIV proteins are cut into smaller proteins for the construction of new viruses. The final stage, budding, sees the assembled viruses released through the plasma membrane of the host cell into the body carrying all they need to infect new cells, notes AIDS.gov.

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