HIV variant tracks T cells in patients
The NIH announced on Monday that the researchers used a defective form of HIV identified in a patient in the early 1990s that integrated into the genome of a single CD4+ T cell. CD4+ T cells are important for immune defense against various pathogens and are one of the primary targets of HIV.
The defective HIV, which is also known as a provirus, marked the originally infected CD4+ T cell and its progeny. This allowed researchers to track the lineage of the virus for 17 years.
Using the novel method, scientists can distinguish dividing HIV cells from dying ones, which was not possible with existing labeling techniques. Making the distinction will help researchers study how immune cells survive infection.
The researchers found that the blood cells of patients contain a higher frequency of defective HIV proviruses than what was previously reported. While the defective variants are not able to produce an infectious virus, many can generate small pieces of HIV.
The researchers speculate that the foreign materials within CD4+ T cells may play an important part in the ongoing immune activation that is characteristic of HIV infection, including patients with undetectable virus in their blood.