Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have identified a cell where HIV persists even when patients are treated for the disease.
This discovery creates a new target for cure research.
HIV cure research to date has focused on clearing the virus from T cells, a type of white blood cell that is an essential part of the immune system.
But researchers in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the UNC School of Medicine have found that the virus still persists in HIV-infested macrophages – large white blood cells found in tissues throughout the body, including the liver, lungs, bone marrow and brain.
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This discovery has “significant implications for HIV cure research” researchers said. The findings were published Monday in Nature Medicine.
“These results are paradigm changing because they demonstrate that cells other than T cells can serve as a reservoir for HIV,” said Dr. Jenna Honeycutt, lead author and postdoctoral research associate in the UNC Division of Infectious Diseases. “The fact that HIV-infected macrophages can persist means that any possible therapeutic intervention to eradicate HIV might have to target two very different types of cells.”
Now that researchers know HIV persists in macrophages, the next step will be to determine what regulates HIV persistence in tissue macrophages, where in the body persistently infected macrophages reside during HIV treatment and how macrophages respond to possible therapeutic interventions aimed at eradicating HIV from the body.
The UNC School of Medicine team collaborated with scientists in UNC’s Department of Biostatistics, the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System and the Departments of Medicine and Pathology at the University of California at San Diego. The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
For more information on the research, go to: https://www.nature.com/nm/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nm.4319.html.
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett