Research on lentiviruses to continue at Ohio State

October 29, 2002

COLUMBUS, Ohio A major research project which found that methamphetamine greatly speeds a virus' ability to infect neural cells will continue at Ohio State University.

Researchers hope the ongoing work will identify the factors responsible for enhancing the viruses' infection of the nervous system.

The university and the National Institute on Drug Abuse today announced the continuation of the five-year, $1.63 million project begun nearly two years ago. The research, slowed during the last four months by the departure of its lead investigator, will now be headed by researchers from the university's College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Medicine and Public Health.

Earlier this summer, the university announced the first findings based on this project. Investigators reported in the Journal of NeuroVirology that exposing neural cells infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) to methamphetamine increases those cells' ability to replicate the deadly virus as much as 15-fold.

Glen R. Hanson, acting director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, agreed saying, "We are pleased with the agreement between NIDA and Ohio State which will allow the continuation of this important research. Early results of this project have shown that methamphetamine can cause an increase in the replication of a deadly lentivirus."

"Understanding the basic science that drives such mechanisms is essential if we are ever to defeat the viral infections that plague our populations. We applaud the research team's work so far and look forward to even more success in the months to come."

The paper published this summer also reported that before a neural cell can become infected with the virus, it must be associated with a specific type of lymphocyte, or immune cell. Lastly, the researchers discovered that once the virus infects the cells, it mutates into a form that no longer needs this immune-cell association to reproduce.

Lawrence Mathes, professor of veterinary biosciences and director of the university's Center for Retrovirus Research, and Maria Hadjiconstantinou-Neff, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology and Director of the Division of Molecular Neuropsychopharmacology, are co-principal investigators on the project.

Based on the promising findings early in this project, they have incorporated in-vitro, or cell culture, methods into the project as a way to focus on the specific mechanisms that psychostimulant drugs use to enhance FIV expression in immune and neural cells in the cat.

"We strongly believe that these in-vitro studies will provide important and relevant information regarding to the action of psychostimulant drugs on the infection of neural cells by lentiviruses," Lawrence Mathes said, explaining the rationale for refining the research approach.

"Feline retroviruses, including the lentiviruses such as FIV, are established models for HIV, the cause of AIDS," explained Michael Lairmore, professor and chair of the Department of Veterinary Biosciences. "They were used by medical researchers early in that disease's epidemic to help establish patterns of transmission, potential therapeutic approaches, and disease potential."

"The research by Dr. Mathes and his colleagues is essential in discovering the basic mechanisms of virus, cell, and drug interactions critical to understanding and intervening in disease processes," said Glen Hoffsis, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State. "One of the primary missions of the College is to conduct research on diseases of animals that helps both animals and man."

While the new findings have obvious implications for HIV health care, they are just the latest in a long line of findings focused on viruses that attack cats. A quarter-century ago, with support from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Mathes and other Ohio State researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine developed the first vaccine against the feline leukemia virus - the No. 2 killer of cats in the U.S -- that has protected millions of cats against this deadly disease.

Ohio State and its researchers came under fire last year from protesters opposed to this work. Subsequent investigations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that the university had followed all of the federally mandated procedures for animal use in this medical research program.

"This kind of animal research plays an important role in improving our understanding of how pathogens can disrupt human health," explained Dr. Karen Holbrook, the new president of Ohio State University and a biomedical researcher in her own right. "Projects such as this one facilitate the design of treatments for humans and animals alike against many deadly viral diseases."

"The fact that these two highly knowledgeable and experienced faculty have stepped forward to continue this project demonstrates the university's dedication to undertaking research that has strong, direct implications for the health of Ohioans and the nation," explained C. Bradley Moore, vice president for research at Ohio State.
-end-
Contact: Earle Holland (614) 292-8384; Holland.8@osu.edu.

Ohio State University

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