Latent HIV may stay hidden in "quiet" immune cells, suggesting it may become possible to cure and not just control HIV, reveals a new study.
Researchers at Rockefeller University showed that drugs for HIV have become adept at suppressing infection, but they still can't eliminate it because the medication in these pills doesn't touch the virus' hidden reserves, which lie dormant within infected white blood cells.
Author Lillian Cohn said that it has recently been shown that infected white blood cells can proliferate over time, producing many clones, all containing HIV's genetic code.
Cohn added that however, they found that these clones do not appear to harbor the latent reservoir of virus, instead their analysis points to cells that have never divided as the source of the latent reservoir.
HIV mostly targets CD4 T lymphocytes, a type of T cell involved in initiating an immune response, and when it does, it may produce an active infection, hijacking the cell to produce more copies of itself in order infect other cells, and killing it in the process.
Antiretroviral drugs that suppress HIV infection work by disrupting this hijacking, but the virus may also fail to produce an active infection, remaining a quiet, tiny fragment of DNA tucked within the host cell's genome. If so, the drugs have nothing to disrupt, and the infection remains latent.
If a patient stops taking antiretrovirals, the infection rebounds and it is truly amazing that the virus can give rise to AIDS 20 years after the initial infection, Cohn says.
Cohn added that while they cannot rule out the possibility that a rare clone of cells may contain an active virus, it appears most likely that latent reservoir and the potential target for therapies meant to cure HIV resides in the more rare single cells containing unique integrations.
The study is published in Cell.