HIV is still a serious problem for medicine today. Every day, more than 7,000 people in the world become infected with the immunodeficiency virus, and more than 5,000 people die. Unfortunately, modern methods of therapy are not always effective. The reason is that the virus is able to “hide” inside the body and thus avoid the effects of drugs. At this moment, he does not manifest himself in any way and the person does not experience health problems. But after a while, the virus is activated, as a result of which it suppresses the human immune system to critical values. In order to develop effective treatments that will completely rid the body of HIV, scientists have long tried to determine all the places where the virus can hide, but not all reservoirs were known. But gaps in knowledge are gradually being eliminated. In particular, in a recent study, scientists discovered another type of cell in which the virus is in a “sleeping” state, hiding from therapy.
How HIV hides in human cells
The immunodeficiency virus suppresses human immunity by affecting immune cells, namely T-helpers, which perform different tasks. In particular, they stimulate the activity of other immune cells – T-lymphocytes, or T-killers. Their task is to destroy viruses and cells infected by them.
In addition, T-helpers are responsible for the synthesis of the correct antibodies by B cells, and also increase the efficiency of macrophages. The latter act as a “patrol” of the immune system. They wander through the tissues and eat everything that seems suspicious to them. We talked about the work of macrophages in more detail earlier. Thus, the effect of HIV on T-helpers disrupts several mechanisms of the immune system at once, as a result of which its effectiveness is greatly reduced.
Previously, it was believed that HIV hides in the same T-helpers. The words “hidden” mean its integration into the cell genome. That is, physically there is neither a virus nor virus particles in the cell, but there is information about it in DNA. When a cell divides, the virus divides with it. At some point, he can wake up and again begin to suppress the human immune system. It follows that in order to eradicate the virus, it is necessary to destroy all its dormant copies so that they stop reproducing HIV. And for this you need to know all the places where he can hide.
In which cells does the immunodeficiency virus hide?
A group of scientists from Johns Hopkins University in a recent study published in the journal Nature Microbiology report that they have found another reservoir where HIV hides – these are monocytes.
Monocytes are a type of white blood cell that play an important role in the body’s immune system. They are made in the bone marrow and then enter the bloodstream, where they can circulate for several days until they enter the tissues of the body and become another type of cell called macrophages.
The virus has been found in blood samples from people with HIV who have been on standard antiretroviral treatment for a long time. The study showed that monocytes, which contain HIV in DNA, are able to infect neighboring cells. To find out, the researchers first extracted blood cells from samples and grew them in the lab. Usually monocytes turn into macrophages within three days. All of them contained HIV DNA. True, their level was ten times lower than in T-helpers.
What will be the new treatments for HIV
Scientists believe that the results will be useful for the development of new treatments for HIV. However, it is currently difficult to say what exactly these methods will be. It is possible that the basis will be genetic engineering, which allows you to remove the genes of the immunodeficiency virus from HIV. True, while scientists conduct such experiments only with individual cells.
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It is also known that there are people who are naturally resistant to HIV. The bone marrow transplanted from them will allow the body to create cells that HIV cannot enter. There are already successful examples of this method of treatment, but it will not be possible to make it mass-produced yet. Therefore, researchers are looking for ways to specifically remove HIV from helpers and macrophages or destroy cells along with the virus. But for this it is necessary to detect biomarkers of cells carrying the HIV genome. Finally, we recall that scientists have already successfully tested the HIV vaccine, however, so far only on monkeys.