The emergence and evolution of the research fronts in HIV/AIDS research

PLoS One. 2017 May 25;12(5):e0178293. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178293. eCollection 2017.


In this paper, we have identified and analyzed the emergence, structure and dynamics of the paradigmatic research fronts that established the fundamentals of the biomedical knowledge on HIV/AIDS. A search of papers with the identifiers "HIV/AIDS", "Human Immunodeficiency Virus", "HIV-1" and "Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome" in the Web of Science (Thomson Reuters), was carried out. A citation network of those papers was constructed. Then, a sub-network of the papers with the highest number of inter-citations (with a minimal in-degree of 28) was selected to perform a combination of network clustering and text mining to identify the paradigmatic research fronts and analyze their dynamics. Thirteen research fronts were identified in this sub-network. The biggest and oldest front is related to the clinical knowledge on the disease in the patient. Nine of the fronts are related to the study of specific molecular structures and mechanisms and two of these fronts are related to the development of drugs. The rest of the fronts are related to the study of the disease at the cellular level. Interestingly, the emergence of these fronts occurred in successive "waves" over the time which suggest a transition in the paradigmatic focus. The emergence and evolution of the biomedical fronts in HIV/AIDS research is explained not just by the partition of the problem in elements and interactions leading to increasingly specialized communities, but also by changes in the technological context of this health problem and the dramatic changes in the epidemiological reality of HIV/AIDS that occurred between 1993 and 1995.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bibliometrics
  • Biomedical Research / history
  • Biomedical Research / organization & administration
  • Biomedical Research / statistics & numerical data*
  • HIV / drug effects
  • HIV / physiology
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / pathology*
  • HIV Infections / physiopathology
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical


  • Anti-HIV Agents

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work.