New evidence discovered by Johns Hopkins researchers reveals that immune cells infected with a latent form of HIV are capable of proliferating and refilling the reservoir of virus immune to antiretroviral drug therapy.
In most cases, HIV can effectively be controlled with antiretroviral drug therapy. However, the rapid reproduction of such reservoir cells can create an obstacle for researchers, who are working on developing a cure for HIV.
“We know before that the reservoir is very long lived,” said professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins, Robert Siliciano. “But what we didn’t know was how the reservoir was maintained. Now it is clear that these cells aren’t just sitting there, but are dividing and replenishing themselves.”
The findings reveal that in people with HIV, the resting CD4+T cells make up the latent reservoir of HIV and possess the potential capability of reactivating the production of active virus in the body.
Researchers were under the impression that such cells did not possess the capability of proliferating without actually releasing the active form of HIV. The researchers were able to trigger some of the cells to release HIV during stimulation. Subsequent stimulations of the cell lines also released more infectious virus, which suggested that some of the cells infected with the latent form of HIV divided without actually releasing the virus, while maintaining the ability to do so in subsequent stimulations.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States are infected with HIV. One in eight of those people are unaware of their condition.
Discrimination and stigma surrounding HIV continues to create major challenges in reaching and treating those infected with the virus. For this reason, the CDC estimates that only half of the people with HIV keep their virus under control with regular treatment. Since the 1990s, the number of new HIV cases has dropped, as the life expectancy of HIV-infected people has increased to that of the general population.
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine on March 24, 2017.