Researchers discover new replication pathway for HIV-1

A team of researchers discovered a new way that HIV-1 reproduces itself, which could advance the search for new ways to fight infection, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Virology.

Current HIV treatments work well to keep patients from developing AIDS, but scientists have yet to find a way to eliminate the virus from the human body. HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS, inserts its genetic material into a cell's DNA to reproduce in a process called integration. The infected cells can stay alive as long as the person is alive, requiring HIV positive individuals to stay on anti-HIV drugs for life.

Because the integration step fails up to 99 percent of the time, most viruses become stranded outside of the cell's DNA. Researchers at the New York University College of Dentistry found that these stranded or unintegrated viruses are able to generate new viruses to infect cells.

"Although this is not the virus' main method for replicating, having this option available can help HIV survive," David Levy, an associate professor at NYUCD, said. "These new findings suggest one mechanism by which HIV may be surviving in the face of antiviral drugs, and suggests new avenues for research into eliminating infection."

Levy's team found that the unintegrated viruses are able to go dormant and hide out in cells for many weeks. This ability helps HIV-1 to avoid elimination by immune responses and antiviral drugs.

"There is intense interest by researchers in the idea that new drugs might be developed to help to completely eliminate the virus from infected individuals," Levy said. "We think that the new replication mechanism we have found could provide a target for drugs designed to eliminate infection."

Levy said that some researchers observed that some bacteria living in the human mouth may stimulate HIV-1 to come out of the dormant state.

"NYUCD has some terrific groups of researchers who are expert in oral flora and HIV, so we'll be quite interested in working with them to find out how oral health might influence the new replication pathway my group has discovered," Levy said.