T-Cell Finding Sheds Light on Why HIV Can Persist Despite Treatment

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Newswise Ryan Zurakowski, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Delaware, is co-author of a paper appearing in Nature Medicine on Jan. 12 highlighting the role of T-cells in HIV.

The paper, titled HIV-1 Persistence in CD4+ T-Cells with Stem Cell-Like Properties, provides evidence that a particular T-cell type may help researchers better understand why HIV can persist despite treatment.

Zurakowskis co-authors include Mathias Lichterfeld, the papers lead author, and researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH); Ragon Institute of MGH, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University; the First Affiliated Hospital of China Medical University; Brigham and Womens Hospital; and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Zurakowski explained that HIV treatments do not kill infected cells. Instead, they stop the infection of new cells, and rely on the virus itself to kill the infected cells. Unfortunately, some cells infected by the virus memory T-cells are not killed by the virus.

T-cells are a type of lymphocyte, or white blood cell, produced by the thymus gland, that actively participates in the bodys immune response. Memory T-cells can live for years, or even decades, providing life-long immunity to previously encountered diseases. They can form "quiescent" infections, which last for years, and cause HIV to rebound whenever a patient stops treatment.

During a decade-long study, the researchers discovered that not all memory T-cells are alike. A subgroup of memory T-cells, called "Stem-Cell Memory T-cells" (Tscm), are different, particularly in their ability to produce daughter cells.

The researchers were able to show that the HIV-infected Tscm cells in patients on HIV therapy decayed more slowly than any other type of T-cell. As a result, after 10 years of therapy, the Tscm cells represented 24 percent of the total HIV infected cell population, despite being only 1 percent of the total T-cell population.

This finding is significant, Zurakowski said, because it demonstrates that Tscm cells are the slowest-decaying portion of the HIV reservoir.

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T-Cell Finding Sheds Light on Why HIV Can Persist Despite Treatment

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