Demonstration that HTLV-III is the causative agent of AIDS



In 1982, doctors first used the term acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) to describe a mysterious and often fatal disease of unknown cause. Researchers raced against the clock to understand what was causing more and more people to progressively lose their immune system function.


IRP researcher Robert Gallo, M.D., concurrently with researchers at the Pasteur Institute, showed that a retrovirus, dubbed HTLV-III—later renamed the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)—is the virus that causes AIDS.


The discovery that HIV causes AIDS spurred development of a lab-based assay to detect antibodies created by the body in response to the virus, and therefore the exposure of infected individuals to the virus. In the years before effective treatments for AIDS were developed, diagnosis followed by public health initiatives aimed at restricting transmission of the virus were employed. Today, researchers are hot on the trail of an effective and safe HIV vaccine that might one day eradicate the deadly disease.


Popovic M, Sarngadharan MG, Read E, Gallo RC. (1984). Detection, isolation, and continuous production of cytopathic retroviruses (HTLV-III) from patients with AIDS and pre-AIDS. Science. 224 (4648): 497–500.

Gallo RC, Salahuddin SZ, Popovic M, Shearer GM, Kaplan M, Haynes BF, Palker TJ, Redfield R, Oleske J, Safai B et al. (1984). Frequent detection and isolation of cytopathic retroviruses (HTLV-III) from patients with AIDS and at risk for AIDS. Science. 224 (4648): 500–3.

Schüpbach J, Popovic M, Gilden RV, Gonda MA, Sarngadharan MG, Gallo RC. (1984). Serological analysis of a subgroup of human T-lymphotropic retroviruses (HTLV-III) associated with AIDS. Science. 224(4648): 503–5.

Sarngadharan MG, Popovic M, Bruch L, Schüpbach J, Gallo RC. (1984). Antibodies reactive with human T-lymphotropic retroviruses (HTLV-III) in the serum of patients with AIDS. Science. 224 (4648): 506–8.

View All Health Topics

This page was last updated on Friday, August 11, 2023