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Set point viral load in HIV patients ranges over several orders of magnitude and is a key determinant of disease progression in HIV. A number of recent studies have reported high heritability of set point viral load implying that viral genetic factors contribute substantially to the overall variation in viral load. The high heritability is surprising given the diversity of host factors associated with controlling viral infection. Here we develop an analytical model that describes the temporal changes of the distribution of set point viral load as a function of heritability. This model shows that high heritability is the most parsimonious explanation for the observed variance of set point viral load. Our results thus not only reinforce the credibility of previous estimates of heritability but also shed new light onto mechanisms of viral pathogenesis.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS pathogens

Publication Date





Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


Humans, HIV Infections, Viral Load, Carrier State, Models, Theoretical