HIV hides in growth-promoting genes

Virus can spur infected cells to divide, creating long-term reservoirs of infection

2:19pm, June 26, 2014

HIDEOUT  HIV (yellow) infects immune cells called T cells (blue), as seen in this scanning electron micrograph. The discovery that HIV inserts itself in a host’s genes related to cell growth may help explain how the virus persists in the body for so long.

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.

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