Mathematical modeling uncovers mysteries of HIV infection in the brain

June 19, 2017 by Katie Willis
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 ...

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 ...

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, ...

Recommended for you

Team tests best delivery mode for potential HIV vaccine

June 20, 2017

For decades, HIV has successfully evaded all efforts to create an effective vaccine but researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LJI) are steadily inching ...

Understanding HIV's persistence

June 19, 2017

Most cells in the human body have a limited lifespan, typically dying after several days or weeks. And yet, HIV-1 infected cells manage to persist in the body for decades. Current treatment for HIV is very effective at suppressing ...

Researchers uncover clues about how HIV virus mutates

June 1, 2017

A new study published in Cell Host & Microbe led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center completely maps all mutations that help the HIV virus evolve away from a single broadly neutralizing antibody, known ...

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.