Researchers have managed to identify the “invisibility cloak” that allows the HIV virus to take cover inside the cells of the human body, thus evading the immune system and its defensive capabilities. The current study reveals the method through which the virus can be “uncloaked”, allowing the immune system to neutralize it. According to the research team, their findings could be the next stepping stone towards better anti-HIV therapeutic approaches.
The first line of defense against pathogens, also known as the innate immune system, is made of an alarm system that is present on all the cells of an organism. This alarm system can detect the presence of pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites. If the alarm is set off, the infected cell has an anti-viral program that sends out a warning signal towards the rest of the surrounding cells. Until now, the ability of the HIV virus to replicate without being detected by the innate immune system has been a puzzle for scientists since the early discovery of the virus, in the late 1950s.
The research team has identified two key molecules inside the human host cells that aid the HIV replication. The effect of these two molecules is to postpone the viral replication of HIV, thus shielding the virus from the innate immune system. When these two molecules are absent from the cell, HIV triggers the activation of the innate immune system. The two molecules can be either blocked through specific medication or by cellular natural depletion – over time. Researchers suggest that instead of targeting the virus, anti-HIV therapies should target the two molecules, thus making the replication of the HIV virus more difficult.
Greg Towers, the lead author of the study, reports that the HIV virus is very capable of eluding the organism’s immune system. This ability makes the virus even more dangerous. However, their novel discovery allows for the future development of anti-HIV drugs that will target these two molecules in order to expose the hidden HIV virus. Towers added that the implication of the new study are huge, however, there’s much more research that needs to be done before new drugs can be released to the general population. Further studies will also be directed towards discovering whether the two new molecules can also be used to protect humans against the transmission of the HIV virus.
For their current study, the researchers used an experimental drug that is based on Cyclosporine. Cyclosporine is a drug that is used in order to prevent organ rejection after transplant surgery due to its ability to diminish the immune system’s response. Precedent studies have already shown that Cyclosporine can be used to block the replication of viruses, including HIV. However, due to its side effects on the immune system, it’s currently not used as a therapeutic method. The research team modified the drug, in order to make it block the effects of the two cell molecules, without the secondary effects caused on the immune system’s activity.