Virus can spur infected cells to divide, creating long-term reservoirs of infection
HIV can sometimes create a self-replicating hideout that allows the virus to stay dormant in the body for a decade or more, a new study suggests.
The virus, which causes AIDS, infects immune cells called CD4+ T cells and inserts itself into host cells’ DNA. The virus can lurk in these cells for decades as a dormant, or latent, infection. When patients stop antiviral therapy, the virus can rebound. But no one knew why some T cells serve as the reservoir or how many of these viral hideouts live in the body. Also a mystery was whether the virus persists by lying dormant in long-lived cells or by continually reinfecting new ones, says Charles Bangham, an immunologist and virologist at Imperial College London.
Now, it appears that HIV’s longevity in the body depends on where the virus inserts itself. When HIV lands in a gene involved in cell growth, it can somehow spur the cell to divide, replicating the cell and the virus buried in its DNA. Such clonal expansion