1. Milestone 1 (1981)

    First reports of AIDS cases

    HIV virus tag cloud
    Evgeny Gromov/Alamy Stock Photo

    In Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a group of clinicians described five previously healthy men who had contracted pneumonia caused by an opportunistic pathogen normally associated with severe immunosuppression. The findings would soon be recognized as the first report of AIDS in humans. Read more

    Video 1

    The global response to HIV

    Watch Anthony S. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) discuss the early stages of the AIDS pandemic, the clinical and scientific response, and prospects for the control and cure of HIV.

  2. Milestone 2 (1983)

    Discovery of HIV-1

    Scanning electron micrograph of HIV particles infecting a human T cell
    Stocktrek Images, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo

    Three separate teams—in Paris, in Bethesda, Maryland, and in California—isolate retroviruses from the T cells of patients with AIDS or pre-AIDS. The retroviruses were cytopathic to T cells and eventually named HIV-1, the causative agent of AIDS. Read more

    Video 2

    Discovering HIV

    Watch Nobel Laureate and a co-discoverer of HIV Françoise Barré-Sinoussi recall early studies leading to to the identification of the causative agent of AIDS.

  3. Milestone 3 (1984)

    CD4 is the receptor for HIV-1

    3D Illustration of a HIV Virus in the Body
    Location South/Alamy Stock Photo

    CD4 is a cell-surface co-receptor for the T cell receptor and contributes to T cell activation. In a twist of fate, CD4 is also the receptor for HIV-1, leading to infection and eventual depletion of CD4+ T cells, thereby disabling the T cell response to infection. Read more

  4. Milestone 4 (1984)

    AIDS is a pandemic disease

    Hand prints saying Stop the chain of AIDS
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    Epidemiological research shows that AIDS is much more geographically widespread than originally thought, and homosexual, heterosexual and mother-to-child transmission routes contribute to pandemic spread. Read more

  5. Milestone 5 (1985)

    Complete HIV-1 sequence is described

    Microscopic view of hiv virus
    Stocktrek Images, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo

    Three groups report the full nucleotide sequence of HIV-1, revealing the complexity of the viral genome and leading to insights into viral gene regulation. Read more

  6. 1985

    Clinical test to detect HIV-1

    A vial of blood
    Getty Images/Cultura RF

    The FDA approves the first blood-based immunoassay for detection of the AIDS virus.


    Alexander, T. S. Clin. Vaccine Immunol. 23, 249–253 (2016)
  7. 1987

    First antiretroviral drug approved

    A chemical structure
    Science Photo Library/Alamy Stock Photo

    The National Cancer Institute (US) in collaboration with what is now GlaxoSmithKline develops the first antiretroviral drug, zidovudine (AZT), followed by its rapid approval by the FDA.


    Broder, S. Antiviral Res. 85, 1–18 (2010)
  8. Milestone 7 (1989)

    Origins of HIV

    An old-growth forest
    Getty Images

    HIV-1 and HIV-2 have distinct genetic origins. While HIV-2 is closely related to a simian immunodeficiency virus endemic to sooty mangabeys (SIVsmm), HIV-1 is thought to have been transmitted to humans from SIVcpz-infected chimpanzees. Read more

  9. Milestone 8 (1989)

    Structure of HIV-1 protease

    Close up of HIV virus
    MedicalRF.com/Alamy Stock Photo

    Insights from the structures of HIV-1 proteins, including the protease and reverse transcriptase, have aided development of antiretroviral drugs, while more recent studies of the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein are informing vaccine design. Read more

  10. 1991

    In-host variation of SIV leads to evasion of antibodies

    Virus being attacked by antibodies
    Sebastian Kaulitzki /Alamy Stock Photo

    Extensive sequence variation is observed in SIV gp120 following experimental infection of macaque hosts. The corresponding mutations are later shown to be driven by selective pressure from the host immune response and lead to production of neutralizing antibody escape variants. Subsequent studies document a similar phenomenon in HIV-1.


    Burns, D. P. & Desrosiers, R. C. J. Virol. 65, 1843–1854 (1991) | Burns, D. P., Collignon, C. & Desrosiers, R. C. J. Virol. 67, 4104–4113 (1993) | Kwong, P. D. et al. Nature 420, 678–682 (2002)
  11. Milestone 11 (1993)

    HIV-1 replicates at all stages of infection

    Close up of an HIV virus
    Science Photo Library/Alamy Stock Photo

    HIV-1 replicates to high levels during acute infection, with virus levels dropping dramatically during clinical latency. Researchers discover that the virus nevertheless continues to replicate during this chronic phase, highlighting the need for continuous treatment. Read more

  12. 1994

    Antiretroviral treatment reduces maternal–infant transmission of HIV-1

    A human foetus

    Treatment of pregnant mothers at 14–34 weeks gestation and infants for six weeks postpartum with the antiretroviral drug zidovudine significantly reduces maternal–infant transmission of HIV-1.


    Connor, E. M. et al. N. Engl. J. Med. 331, 1173–1180 (1994)
  13. Milestone 12 (1994)

    CD8+ T cells control virus levels

    Color enhanced transmission electron micrograph TEM of an HIV virus budding out of an infected T-lymphocyte cell
    Phanie/Alamy Stock Photo

    CD8+ T cells mediate the drop in virus levels in blood after the acute phase of HIV or SIV infection, which can result in viral escape from this immune pressure. Read more

  14. Milestone 13 (1995)

    HIV-1 dynamics drive CD4+ T cell turnover

    Water draining down a plughole
    incamerastock/Alamy Stock Photo

    Two studies show that the high level of HIV-1 replication drives CD4+ T cell death and regeneration by homeostatic mechanisms. Disease progression is associated with exhaustion of the ability of CD4+ T cells to self-renew. Read more

  15. 2008

    Nobel Prize for the discovery of HIV

    The Nobel Prize
    © ®The Nobel Foundation

    Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi jointly receive half of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of HIV. Harald zur Hausen is also awarded the prize that year for his discovery that human papilloma viruses cause cervical cancer.

  16. Milestone 18 (2009)

    The Berlin patient

    A photo of Timothy Brown
    Bloomberg/Rob Waters via Getty Images

    Timothy Brown—the Berlin patient—is the only person known to have been functionally cured of HIV-1, following an allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant from a donor with a homozygous mutation in the HIV-1 co-receptor CCR5 (CCR5 delta32). Read more

  17. 2009

    Vaccination against HIV-1 may reduce risk of infection

    A syringe about to give an injection
    Getty Images/iStockphoto Thinkstock Images

    RV144 is the first phase 3 clinical trial of an HIV vaccine to show a glimmer of protective efficacy. While the results are modest, they reinvigorate efforts to develop HIV vaccines after a series of disappointing setbacks.


    Rerks-Ngarm, S. et al. N. Engl. J. Med. 361, 2209–2220 (2009)
  18. Milestone 19 (2009)

    Advancing broadly neutralizing antibodies

    Science Photo Library/Alamy Stock Photo

    Discoveries of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) that inhibit a wide range of HIV-1 viruses open the door to clinical application of bNAbs, as well as efforts to elicit these antibodies by vaccines. Read more

  19. Milestone 20 (2011)

    Antiretroviral treatment as prevention

    A blue PrEP pill
    Zoonar GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo

    Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a crucial tool for both treatment of HIV and prevention of infection. By reducing virus levels in infected individuals, or when used as pre-exposure prophylaxis in HIV-negative individuals, ART can interrupt transmission of HIV. Read more