Mathematical modeling uncovers mysteries of HIV infection in the brain

June 19, 2017 by Katie Willis, University of Alberta
An HIV-infected cell. Credit: NIAID

After uncovering the progression of HIV infection in the brain thanks to a new mathematical model developed by a UAlberta research team, clinicians and researchers are developing a nasal spray to administer drugs more effectively.

The group that developed the —led by PhD student Weston Roda and Michael Li, a professor in the Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences—used data from patients who died five to 15 years after they were infected, as well as known biological processes for the HIV virus to build the model that predicts the growth and progression of HIV in the , from the moment of infection onward. It is the first model of an infectious disease in the brain.

HIV infection in the brain has been a proverbial black box for scientists since the development of in the 1990s.

"The nature of the HIV virus allows it to travel across the blood-brain barrier in infected macrophage—or white blood cell—as early as two weeks after infection. Antiretroviral drugs, the therapy of choice for HIV, cannot enter the brain so easily," said Roda.

This creates what is known as a viral reservoir, a place in the body where the virus can lay dormant and is relatively inaccessible to drugs. Prior to this study, scientists could only study brain infection at autopsy. The new model allows scientists to backtrack, seeing the progression and development of HIV infection in the brain. Using this information, researchers can determine what level of effectiveness is needed for antiretroviral therapy in the brain to decrease active infection.

"The more we understand and can target treatment toward viral reservoirs, the closer we get to developing total suppression strategies for HIV ," said Roda. In fact, his results are already being put to use in a University of Alberta lab.

A research team led by Chris Power, Roda's co-supervisor who is a professor in the Division of Neurology, is planning clinical trials for a that would get the drugs into the brain faster—with critical information on dosage and improvement rate provided by Roda's model.

"Our next steps are to understand other viral reservoirs, like the gut, and develop models similar to this one, as well as understand latently infected cell populations in the brain," said Roda. "With the antiretroviral therapy, infected cells can go into a latent stage. The idea is to determine the size of the latently infected population so that clinicians can develop treatment strategies"

The paper, "Modeling brain lentiviral infections during antiretroviral therapy in AIDS," was published in the Journal of Neurovirology.

Explore further: Researchers identify a new HIV reservoir

Related Stories

Researchers identify a new HIV reservoir

April 17, 2017
HIV cure research to date has focused on clearing the virus from T cells, a type of white blood cell that is an essential part of the immune system. Yet investigators in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University ...

Researchers identify immune component up-regulated in brain after viral infection

June 8, 2017
A new study of infection by a virus that causes brain inflammation and seizures in a mouse model has shown increased levels of complement component C3. The C3 was produced by immune cells in the brain called microglia within ...

Study observes potential breakthrough in treatment of HIV

June 17, 2016
A new study conducted by researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) observes that pharmacological enhancement of the immune systems of HIV patients could help eliminate infected cells, providing an important ...

Designed drug candidate significantly reduces HIV reactivation rate

July 8, 2015
HIV-infected patients remain on antiretroviral therapy for life because the virus survives over the long-term in infected dormant cells. Interruption of current types of antiretroviral therapy results in a rebound of the ...

Researchers prove HIV targets tissue macrophages

March 8, 2016
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, ...

Mouse model reveals extensive postnatal brain damage caused by Zika infection

November 22, 2016
A team of scientists led by researchers at the University of Georgia has developed a new mouse model that closely mimics fetal brain abnormalities caused by the Zika virus in humans.

Recommended for you

New simulation tool predicts how well HIV-prophylaxis will work

June 14, 2018
A new mathematical simulation approach predicts the efficacy of pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications, which help prevent HIV infection. The framework, presented in PLOS Computational Biology by Sulav Duwal ...

Many at risk for HIV despite lifesaving pill

June 11, 2018
Multiple barriers may stop high-risk individuals from accessing an HIV drug that can reduce the subsequent risk of infection, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Active HIV in large white blood cells may drive cognitive impairment in infected mice

June 7, 2018
Macrophages, large white blood cells that engulf and destroy potential pathogens, harbor active viral reserves that appear to play a key role in impaired learning and memory in mice infected with a rodent version of HIV. ...

HIV vaccine elicits antibodies in animals that neutralize dozens of HIV strains

June 4, 2018
An experimental vaccine regimen based on the structure of a vulnerable site on HIV elicited antibodies in mice, guinea pigs and monkeys that neutralize dozens of HIV strains from around the world. The findings were reported ...

HIV study reveals new group of men at risk of infection

June 4, 2018
A group of men who may be underestimating their HIV risk has been identified in a new study.

Discovery reveals how cells try to control levels of key HIV protein

May 31, 2018
One of the many challenges in treating HIV is that the virus can lie dormant in cells, quietly evading immune detection until it suddenly roars to life without warning and begins replicating furiously. Salk Institute researchers ...

0 comments

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.