Researchers prove HIV targets tissue macrophages

March 8, 2016
HIV-1 Virus. Credit: J Roberto Trujillo/Wikipedia

Investigators in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have clearly demonstrated that HIV infects and reproduces in macrophages, large white blood cells found in the liver, brain and connective tissues of the body. This discovery has significant implications for HIV cure research. Macrophages ingest foreign material, including infected CD4 T cells. Past studies concluded macrophages became infected upon ingestion of compromised CD4 T cells. By studying the virus in novel small animal models that have no T cells (the cells that easily support HIV infection), researchers found HIV infected macrophages, proving macrophage-tropic strains of HIV exist and can autonomously replicate in these important cells. These findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation on Monday, March 7.

"This study unequivocally demonstrates macrophages are a clear source of replicating virus," said Joseph Eron, MD, study co-author, and professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC's School of Medicine.

Macrophages are myeloid lineage cells. To determine if are productively infected with HIV, the team used a humanized myeloid-only mouse (MoM) model. Using this model, they discovered macrophages can sustain HIV replication in the absence of T cells; HIV- are distributed in various tissues including the brain; replication-competent virus can be rescued from infected macrophages obtained from tissues of MoM; and infected macrophages can establish infection in new hosts. These results demonstrate that macrophages represent a genuine target for HIV infection that can sustain and transmit infection. The study's results also have implications for cure research.

"If the T cells were the only target of HIV cure research, eradicating the virus would still be tough," said J. Victor Garcia, PhD, study co-author, and a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC. "Now we have demonstrated that there is another cell target where replicating HIV can be found, which could make eradicating the virus from the host and finding a cure for HIV/AIDS harder."

Now that Garcia, Eron and their teams know HIV targets macrophages and that the virus replicates there, the next step will be to introduce antiretroviral therapy into the models to see if the virus continues to replicate despite treatment.

"This model will allow us to ask the critical question as to whether or not represent a latent reservoir for HIV after treatment with antiretroviral therapy," said Jenna Bone Honeycutt, PhD, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC. "These experiments will inform the future direction of HIV cure research as we know it."

Explore further: Researchers find that antiretroviral therapy reduces HIV in the female reproductive tract

Related Stories

Researchers find tough new obstacle to HIV cure strategies

February 15, 2016

(Medical Xpress)—It's a good news/bad news scenario: Researchers have made a new discovery about HIV that will redirect curative strategies toward latent reservoirs of HIV—that's the good news. The bad news is that they ...

Recommended for you

S.Africa launches major new trial of AIDS vaccine

November 29, 2016

South Africa on Wednesday launched a major clinical trial of an experimental vaccine against the AIDS virus, which scientists hope could be the "final nail in the coffin" for the disease.

HIV survives in our chromosomal DNA

November 17, 2016

It has been said that HIV cannot be cured since the virus propagates in places beyond the reach of antiviral agents. New research from Karolinska Institutet suggests, however, that this view is incorrect.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

mapesho1968
not rated yet Mar 09, 2016
I am hiv positive.I have a problem ,since i started taking hiv drugs my neck is fatter than i was.What could be the reason for this side effect and how can i reverse this side effect?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.