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posted Friday, April 21, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 16
Scientists find HIV reservoirs in macrophages

Discovery may make HIV cure more difficult
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Scientists find HIV reservoirs in macrophages

Discovery may make HIV cure more difficult

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Scientists at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have made a discovery that could make curing HIV infection more difficult.

In a report published in Nature Medicine, researchers said they had discovered viral reservoirs in macrophages. Previously, scientists had only known about such reservoirs in T cells.

Like T cells, macrophages are part of the human immune system and are found throughout the human body.

In HIV-negative people, some T cells directly attack and destroy virus-infected cells, while others assist in that process. Macrophages then surround and 'clean up' cellular debris, foreign substances, cancer cells, and anything else that is not essential to the functioning of healthy cells.

HIV attacks healthy T cells and renders them useless, thus opening HIV-positive people to opportunistic infections.

In HIV-positive patients who are treated with antiretroviral medications, the HIV virus can be knocked down to a point where there is no detectable viral load. At this point, the patient will show no symptoms of HIV infection and will generally not be infectious.

HIV can remain dormant in T cells, however, forming 'viral reservoirs.' Consequently, if treatment is suspended, the HIV virus can reassert itself. Much current HIV research focuses on finding and destroying reservoirs of dormant HIV.

The discovery that HIV can form reservoirs in macrophages as well complicates the search for a cure to HIV infection. According to Jenna Honeycutt, lead author of the new study, her team's discovery is 'paradigm changing.'

Scientists must now discover how to eliminate persistent HIV infection macrophages as well, she said.

Initial research demonstrated that in the absence of humanized T cells, antiretroviral drugs could strongly suppress HIV in macrophages, using an experimental mouse model.

However, when the therapy was interrupted, the virus rebounded in one-third of the mice. This, say researchers, is consistent with persistent infection in the face of drug therapy, paralleling similar persistence in T cells.

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