Eliminating latent HIV in cells to eradicate HIV

Eliminating latent HIV in cells to eradicate HIV
© iStock/Thomas Faull

A future HIV cure may be possible, after scientists have found out that the genetic switch which causes latent HIV inside cells to replicate can be manipulated to eradicate the virus from the body.

The findings on latent HIV inside cells suggest a future cure for HIV may be possible, and are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Latent HIV in cells

During infection the latent HIV inside cells replicates. The DNA of HIV makes its way into the host cell’s nucleus and integrates itself into the host genome.

The Tat gene circuit is the key piece of HIV DNA which controls HIV gene transcription and activation,allowing new copies of the HIV virus to infect neighbouring cells.

According to the University of Illinois, Chicago, US: “HIV-specific immune effector cells kill cells infected with HIV, but only when the cells are being used to produce more of the virus, meaning that the Tat gene circuit is switched on. In cells that are latently infected, the Tat gene circuit is off, and the cell goes about its normal business all the while harboring quiescent HIV.”

The importance of targeting the Tat gene circuit

Jie Liang, the Richard and Loan Hill Professor of Bioengineering in the University of Illinois at the Chicago College of Engineering and a lead author of the paper, said: “By targeting the Tat gene circuit with drugs or small molecules to activate it, we would be able to cause latently-infected cells to start producing more virus, and then they can be destroyed by the immune system.”

The researchers found ways to manipulate the Tat gene circuit. Liang added: “Using different models and algorithms, we were able to accurately map a ‘probability landscape’ of the cellular reactions that can impact Tat gene circuit reactivation, and our results suggest new ways of targeting latent cells that may lead to the eradication of the HIV virus from a host.”

A future cure for HIV?

Liang concludes: “Our results suggest that by controlling HIV latency through manipulation of the Tat gene circuit, effective therapeutic strategies can be identified that would one day provide a cure for HIV.”

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