Research suggests new cellular targets for HIV drug development

May 27, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Focusing HIV drug development on immune cells called macrophages instead of traditionally targeted T cells could bring us closer to eradicating the disease, according to new research from University of Florida and five other institutions.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that in diseased cells -- such as cancer cells -- that are also infected with HIV, almost all the virus was packed into macrophages, whose job is to "eat" invading disease agents.

What's more, up to half of those macrophages were hybrids, formed when pieces of genetic material from several parent HIV viruses combined to form new strains.

Such "recombination" is responsible for formation of mutants that easily elude immune system surveillance and escape from anti-HIV drugs.

"Macrophages are these little factories producing new hybrid particles of the virus, making the virus probably even more aggressive over time," said study co-author Marco Salemi, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at the UF College of Medicine. "If we want to eradicate HIV we need to find a way to actually target the virus specifically infecting the macrophages."

The work was published recently in the journal PLoS ONE.

At least 1.1 million people in the United States and 33 million in the world are living with HIV/AIDS, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The researchers set out to see if HIV populations that infect abnormal tissues are different from those that infect normal ones, and whether particular strains are associated with certain types of illness.

They tackled the question using frozen post-autopsy tissue samples, pathology results and advanced computational techniques. They analyzed 780 HIV sequences from 53 normal and abnormal tissues from seven patients who had died between 1995 and 2003 from various AIDS-related conditions, including HIV-associated dementia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and generalized infections throughout the body. Four patients had been treated with highly active antiretroviral therapy, called HAART, at or near the time of death.

The researchers compared brain and lymphoma tissues, which had heavy concentrations of macrophages, with lymphoid tissues -- such as from the spleen and lymph nodes-- that had a mix of HIV-infected macrophages and T cells.

The analyses revealed great diversity in the HIV strains present, with different tissues having hybrid viruses made up of slightly different sets of genes. A high frequency of such recombinant viruses was also found in tissues generally associated with disease processes, such as the meninges, spleen and lymph nodes.

The researchers concluded that HIV-infected macrophages might be implicated in tumor-producing mechanisms.

The higher frequency of recombinant virus in diseased tissues likely is because macrophages multiply as a result of an inflammatory response, the researchers said.

"The study points to macrophages as a site of recombination in active disease," said neurobiologist Kenneth C. Williams, Ph.D., a Boston College associate professor and AIDS expert who was not involved in the study. "So people can say this is one spot where these viruses come from."

T cells -- the so-called conductors of the immune system orchestra, whose decline is the hallmark of HIV disease -- are an obvious target for HIV drug development because they die soon after infection, and are readily sampled from the blood and cultured. But although current drugs are effective at blocking infection of new cells and lowering viral loads to barely detectable levels, they never reduce the viral level in an infected person to zero.

"Where is it coming from?" said Michael S. McGrath, the University of California, San Francisco, professor who led the research team. "We believe it's coming from these macrophages."

Macrophages, like T cells, can be infected multiple times by HIV. But unlike T cells, when they get infected, they don't die within days, but live for several months, all the while being re-infected with multiple viruses of different genetic makeup. That situation is ripe for the emergence of hybrids.

"Most people who look at viral sequences assume that evolution of the virus is linear. In the real world that doesn't happen -- large parts of the virus are swapped in and out. This group has shown that in this model," Williams said. "It sort of overturns the old way of trying to match virus sequence with pathology."

McGrath's group is now developing macrophage-targeting drugs that, through a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, should be in human clinical trials in a few years.

"This is one of the last frontiers -- killing off what we believe is a so far untouched reservoir," he said.
-end-


University of Florida

Related HIV Articles from Brightsurf:

BEAT-HIV Delaney collaboratory issues recommendations measuring persistent HIV reservoirs
Spearheaded by Wistar scientists, top worldwide HIV researchers from the BEAT-HIV Martin Delaney Collaboratory to Cure HIV-1 Infection by Combination Immunotherapy (BEAT-HIV Collaboratory) compiled the first comprehensive set of recommendations on how to best measure the size of persistent HIV reservoirs during cure-directed clinical studies.

The Lancet HIV: Study suggests a second patient has been cured of HIV
A study of the second HIV patient to undergo successful stem cell transplantation from donors with a HIV-resistant gene, finds that there was no active viral infection in the patient's blood 30 months after they stopped anti-retroviral therapy, according to a case report published in The Lancet HIV journal and presented at CROI (Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections).

Children with HIV score below HIV-negative peers in cognitive, motor function tests
Children who acquired HIV in utero or during birth or breastfeeding did not perform as well as their peers who do not have HIV on tests measuring cognitive ability, motor function and attention, according to a report published online today in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Efforts to end the HIV epidemic must not ignore people already living with HIV
Efforts to prevent new HIV transmissions in the US must be accompanied by addressing HIV-associated comorbidities to improve the health of people already living with HIV, NIH experts assert in the third of a series of JAMA commentaries.

The Lancet HIV: Severe anti-LGBT legislations associated with lower testing and awareness of HIV in African countries
This first systematic review to investigate HIV testing, treatment and viral suppression in men who have sex with men in Africa finds that among the most recent studies (conducted after 2011) only half of men have been tested for HIV in the past 12 months.

The Lancet HIV: Tenfold increase in number of adolescents on HIV treatment in South Africa since 2010, but many still untreated
A new study of more than 700,000 one to 19-year olds being treated for HIV infection suggests a ten-fold increase in the number of adolescents aged 15 to 19 receiving HIV treatment in South Africa, according to results published in The Lancet HIV journal.

Starting HIV treatment in ERs may be key to ending HIV spread worldwide
In a follow-up study conducted in South Africa, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers say they have evidence that hospital emergency departments (EDs) worldwide may be key strategic settings for curbing the spread of HIV infections in hard-to-reach populations if the EDs jump-start treatment and case management as well as diagnosis of the disease.

NIH HIV experts prioritize research to achieve sustained ART-free HIV remission
Achieving sustained remission of HIV without life-long antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a top HIV research priority, according to a new commentary in JAMA by experts at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.

The Lancet HIV: PrEP implementation is associated with a rapid decline in new HIV infections
Study from Australia is the first to evaluate a population-level roll-out of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in men who have sex with men.

Researchers date 'hibernating' HIV strains, advancing BC's leadership in HIV cure research
Researchers have developed a novel way for dating 'hibernating' HIV strains, in an advancement for HIV cure research.

Read More: HIV News and HIV Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.