Uncovering Another Layer

A graphic showing rebound DNA sequencesWhen people living with HIV take antiviral therapy, their viral loads are driven so low that a standard blood test cannot detect the virus. However, once the therapy is stopped, detectable HIV re-emerges with new cells getting infected.

This is called “rebound” virus and comes from a population of cells in blood and lymph tissues that were dormant while individuals were on therapy.

It’s a problem called latency, and overcoming it remains a major goal for researchers trying to create curative therapies for HIV — the special focus of the UNC HIV Cure Center.

Now, scientists led by virologist Ron Swanstrom, PhD, director of the UNC Center for AIDS Research and the Charles P. Postelle, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry & Biophysics at the UNC School of Medicine, have discovered another layer to the challenge of HIV latency.

Swanstrom and colleagues, with collaborators at UCSF, Yale and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, have found indirect evidence for a new reservoir of latent HIV-positive cells in the central nervous system.

By studying cerebral spinal fluid in patients who had just quit antiviral therapy, researchers found that dormant infected cells in the central nervous system are separate to infected cells in the already known reservoir in the blood.

The upshot: Any curative therapy to treat HIV would need to activate this dormant reservoir in the central nervous system, as well as the reservoir in the blood and lymph tissue.

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