Deactivating HIV's "Plan B"

Scientists discover molecules keeping HIV alive in immune cells

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Scientists have discovered how the HIV virus manages to survive inside immune cells by changing the HIV virus' molecular "diet" and then replicating with the help of an unexpected compound.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) currently infects 33 million people worldwide and over one million die each year from HIV and AIDS related diseases. The HIV virus is such a lethal killing machine due to its ability to hide in the body's immune system and constantly replicate.

The HIV virus particularly likes to hide in the most unlikely of places: a cell designed to kill foreign invaders. The "macrophage" is an immune cell that is assigned the job of destroying and eliminating foreign bodies and cell garbage.

Scientists have recently made a huge breakthrough by discovering how the virus acts within this macrophage. HIV primarily uses molecules called dNTP to replicate itself, but these are not usually present in macrophages because they do not need to replicate themselves. This doesn't stop HIV, however, as it begins to use rNTP which is found in high amounts inside macrophages.

When the team of researchers blocked the virus's ability to tap into rNTP within the macrophage, its ability to replicate was decreased by an astonishing 90 percent. This could mark a huge turning point in how the virus is currently treated. Drugs available now tend to target dNTP, not rNTP. New therapies could be evolved that would instead eliminate the virus's rNTP supply and stop the virus from within the immune cells.

This kind of therapy would be designed to attack the virus much earlier, since macrophages are among the first cells it infects. An rNTP-targeting drug already exists and is being tested for use in patients with cancer, but similar drugs will likely be tested in patients with HIV as well.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 24, 2011
Last Updated:
January 25, 2011