Scientists of UC San Francisco have discovered new mechanisms through which HIV goes hiding in infected cells, rests in a latent state thereby escaping the immune system of the body and resisting antiviral drugs from flushing them out of it.
The findings of this study that were published online on Science Translational Medicine are expected to assist scientists in designing and testing new therapies that are aimed at finding a cure for the virus that still infects several people across the globe.
Typically, HIV takes possession of immune system cells called CD4 T cells and converts them into factories that are capable of creating more and more virus. But for some unknown reasons, a very small section of these infected cells goes dormant and do not make any virus. Hunting down these “silent” killers i.e. the HIV-infected cells has been extremely challenging.
Knowledge of Why the Some HIV Cells Remain Latent Could Lead to Cure of HIV
Associate professor of medicine at UCSF and a staff physician at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Steven A. Yukl said that it is difficult to separate infected cells from the uninfected ones and detecting the latently infected cells is even more challenging. He adds that cells that have been latently infected are very rare and still there is no process in place to identify them.
Cells that have been silently infected can go dormant for decades, and even indefinitely before they encounter a specific natural stimuli that influence them to start making viral particles. Antiretroviral therapies (ARTs) that are prevalent today cannot kill such latently infected cells, and they cannot also prevent them from being reactivated. At most, ARTs are capable of keeping the virus at distance, but it generally comes back the moment patients stop taking the drugs.
Yukl said that with the knowledge of the mechanisms that these silently infected cells use to go hiding would assist in the development of a therapy that would lead to either reactivating them and then killing them or silencing them forever. He adds that until and unless it is figured out that what keeps these cells latent, HIV cannot be cured.
Scientists from the UCSF-affiliated Gladstone Institutes had earlier devised a gadget that could do the tracking of HIV within the cloned laboratory CD4 cells, enable them to examine the complete course of the infection comprising the stage of latency as well. However, as laboratory systems do not essentially exhibit what is actually happening inside the body of a human being, the team of Yukl has come out to scrutinize the cells that ahs been taken from 18 HIV-infected patients.