June 16, 2013
How HIV Kills Cells Found
One of the most important mysteries of any disease, and a crucial part of understanding how to combat it, is figuring out how the disease actually attacks the body. Research is being done by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the area of immunodeficiency viruses and hints that they have found how HIV attacks immune cells.
Let’s quickly take a step back to biology class so that we understand how a virus attacks a cell and how it multiplies within the body. Regular viruses attach themselves to cells and inject their RNA into these immune cells. They then use the host cell to replicate the virus’ RNA using the process of translation and transcription. The special case of viruses is that they use the host to replicate their RNA because the virus does not have its own way of replicating. Using the host cell, they replicate their RNA until the cell explodes, releasing new viruses into the body.
Now, the difference that scientists have found for HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, when compared to a regular virus, is what happens when the RNA enters the cells of the host. HIV does much more than replicate itself within the host immune cell. While it integrates its genes, HIV is able to activate a very destructive signal sent by the enzyme DNA-PK, or DNA-dependent protein kinase. This signal is what kills a very special T cell called CD4+. This T cell is particularly important in fighting off diseases because it is the cell that signals other cells to mobilize when the body senses an invader and feels that it is threatened. Killing this T cell prevents the body from targeting viruses or bacteria, allowing it spread and invade the body. It is for this reason that many people die from infections and other diseases like pneumonia.
Although this isn’t a cure, this gives research a much more defined direction of where they can focus. As we continue to search for a vaccine for the virus, this may be the biggest step possible besides finding a cure for the virus. This new information will give scientists direction in creating new medication.
If medications are able to prevent this signal from being released, then the body would still have the ability to locate and mobilize to kill foreign invaders. Because this is the deadliest part of the virus, it might be able to hinder the effectiveness of the virus and keep people alive much longer. I like to be optimistic, so I would even consider the idea that it would render the virus almost completely harmless.
As we see more and more advances in research and medicine, a cure for HIV is very much in sight. Over the past year, there have been sited cures for HIV and, as we study these individuals and how their bodies react to HIV, there are very high hopes as to having a vaccine within the next decade or two, wiping out one of the most dangerous and prolonged viruses in human history.
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