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Cell research uncovers intriguing clues to 'Trojan horse' gene in HIV infection

Philadelphia, Pa. Researchers are probing details of how HIV commandeers genes in infected cells to disguise itself from the immune system. The researchers, from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, have identified cellular proteins expressed during HIV infection that enable HIV-infected cells to avoid apoptosis, a common cell suicide event. This survival mechanism allows the virus to maintain the infection within the compromised cells.

These findings, as yet based on studies in cells, not in patients, may potentially lead to future treatments that could fully eliminate a patient's HIV infection.

Current treatments for HIV and AIDS rely on a combination of drugs called highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART). "Although HAART drives down the HIV to undetectable levels, latent (or silent) infection may surge back if the treatment is interrupted," said the study's lead author, Terri H. Finkel, M.D., Ph.D., chief of Rheumatology at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"Furthermore, HAART does not work for some patients, while other patients are unable to tolerate the treatment's strong side effects," added Dr. Finkel. "Therefore, we urgently need new treatment approaches, including ways to prevent latent infection." The study by Dr. Finkel and her colleagues Jiyi Yin, M.D., and Maria Chen appears in the March issue of the journal AIDS.

The study builds on previous research by Dr. Finkel that showed, contrary to prevailing dogma, HIV does not always kill infected immune cells. Instead, it kills bystander cells and somehow prevents at least some infected cells from dying. "HIV works as both a sword and shield," said Dr. Finkel. "It destroys some immune cells, while taking over the genetic machinery of other immune cells and protecting itself within those cells."

Other researchers had demonstrated HIV's ability to remain latent within normal-appearing, but infected cells despite anti-retroviral therapy. This ability,
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Contact: Joey McCool
mccool@email.chop.edu
267-426-6070
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
6-Apr-2004


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