New Study Sheds Light on How HIV Cells Hide/Replicate

HIV, the virus that triggers AIDS, may be more diverse and difficult to control than researchers had previously envisioned.

For the first time Brigham Young University and Johns Hopkins researchers have removed an elegant cell that allows the AIDS-producing virus to sit in waiting like a Trojan Horse.

It's one Dr. Greg Burton refers to as the Cinderella cell.

Burton and biologist Keith Crandall say this latest Brigham Young /Johns Hopkins study reveals what could be the most cunning trick yet.

From electron microscope photos, courtesy of Andras Szakal, the rare follicular dendritic cells can be seen.

They're like branch libraries, retaining on octopus-like tentacles bits and pieces of agents the immune system needs to remember and build antibodies against when needed.

But HIV has learned how to hide there, waiting, while they're not infecting anything.

That is, until a cell rubs against the arms, checking to see what the library has saved from other infections.

"It's almost like they come up and have an intimate embrace, and in the process of that embrace, there's a knife that goes in the back of that cell that now is going to become infected," Burton said.

Now, from this rare so-called library cell it trusts implicitly to stay on guard, the worst invader of all is passed on unknowingly.

"This is the first study in which people have gone in and actually taken out these cells and characterized the virus on the individual cells from the different sites where they live," Burton explained.

These hiding places are called reservoirs.

Researchers now want to explore ways to attack the virus in the very pockets where they hide.

The BYU-Johns Hopkins study will appear in the June issue of the Journal of Virology.