February 22, 2023

HIV, human immunodeficiency virus, destroys CD4 cells, also known as helper T cells, in the immune system. Without these cells, bodies have a hard time fighting off various diseases. While there is currently no cure for HIV, people now live long and fulfilling lives with it when treated medically.


Long-term medical treatment isn’t ideal, however, making the fight far from over. Researchers are constantly looking for ways to develop new treatments. One reason HIV is hard to eliminate is its ability to escape drug treatment by hiding in the body, including in the lymph nodes and spleen.


Infected cells hole up in an area of the lymph tissue called the B cell follicles. Immune cells, including T cells and natural killer (NK) cells, whose job is to kill virally infected cells, are generally unable to reach the B cell follicles, making them a safe space for the virus.


Using findings from a previous study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2017 focused on B cells, a research team at Emory National Primate Research Center (EPC) studied rhesus macaques with chronic SIV infection.  


“Infiltration of these highly cytotoxic NK cells in the B cell follicles has never been shown before during chronic HIV/SIV,” says senior author Vijayakumar Velu, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Division of Microbiology and Immunology at the EPC. “This study has implications for developing new cure strategies for HIV, as these cells traffic to B cell follicles during controlled infection,” says co-author Rama Amara, Ph.D.


While more research is needed before introducing new treatments to humans, it’s a huge step in ultimately finding a cure for those living with HIV.

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