It is the first time, when researchers have videotaped the HIV moving from an infected cell to host cells. It is published in the journal Cell Reports.
“We had this global idea of how HIV infects this tissue, but following something live is completely different,” Morgane Bomsel, a molecular biologist at the Institut Cochin in France, said in a statement.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a lentivirus (a subgroup of retrovirus) that causes HIV infection and over time acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. HIV infects vital cells in the human immune system such as helper T cells (specifically CD4+ T cells), macrophages, and dendritic cells.
The process has realized an hour or two. At this point, the virus has been produced and shed and the infected T cell leaves to spread HIV to another cell. Amusingly, the infected T cell always appeared to hone in on epithelial cells directly above macrophages.
“The macrophage just stays still, ready to get the virus when it escapes the epithelial cells,” Bomsel added. “[T]he synapse is always formed on epithelial cells that are just above macrophages, suggesting we do have an interaction between the macrophages and the epithelium.” “We are trying to find ways to purge the reservoir, because we think we know how to kill the virus once we shock the reservoir. And another part of what we do here is work to develop a mucosal HIV vaccine,” Bomsel explained. “It’s a complicated field, but I think it’s important.”
These interactions continue for 20 days or so, at which point HIV enters its latent or “dormant” phase. It is continuing to remain inside the macrophages without producing the virus, which, the researchers say, makes it hard to treat with drugs. However, if a patient was to discontinue treatment, the virus would revive and continue to spread. Therefore, the most promising avenues for cures is to kill the virus “extremely early upon infection”.