Scientists Discover T Cells That Play Hide-And-Seek With HIV

Viruses like HIV can conceal themselves from the immune system, but a specialized type of killer T cell can seek out their hiding spots, a study shows.

AsianScientist (Aug. 11, 2016) – An international team of scientists has discovered that a type of specialized white blood cells can find ‘hidden’ infected cells in tissue and destroy them. This discovery, published in Nature Immunology, could provide new insights into finding better treatments for chronic infections such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Part of what makes chronic illnesses like HIV difficult to treat is the ability of the virus to ‘hide’ from the immune system. Although treatments for HIV with anti-retroviral drugs are highly effective, the medication is lifelong and there is no cure.

Senior research fellow Dr. Yu Di from Monash University in Australia, a co-corresponding author of the study, said that killer T cells are naturally produced in the body during infection. However, their numbers and killing function need to be boosted to allow them to eradicate chronic infections.

The researchers discovered that specialized killer T cells called follicular cytotoxic T cells can enter hiding spots inside lymphoid tissue called B cell follicles, where viruses including HIV conceal themselves during treatment. The follicular cytotoxic T cells are specialized to eradicate this hidden virus pool.

“This discovery will help us to design new therapies that could eventually treat many different infections, including HIV,” said PhD student Leong Yew Ann, who conducted a large portion of the research.

Professor Sharon Lewin, a co-author of the study, said that there are a few ways this discovery could be translated into a treatment for people with chronic infections.

“We could potentially transfer these specialized super potent killer T cells into patients, or we could treat patients with proteins that can drag these specialized killer T cells into the right spots, specifically to the hot spots where HIV can hide during antiviral treatment,” Lewin said.

The article can be found at: Leong et al. (2016) CXCR5 Follicular Cytotoxic T-Cells Control Viral Infection in B Cell Follicles.


Source: Monash University; Photo: Pixabay.
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