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UNC School of Medicine and Colleagues in South Africa Discover Surprise Finding About HIV and Better Therapies

October 11, 2019
School of Medicine

Researchers led by Ron Swanstrom in the UNC School of Medicine and colleagues in South Africa discovered that the latent HIV reservoir that persists during antiretroviral treatment mostly reflects viruses present in the blood at the start of antiretroviral treatment.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) can suppress HIV to the point where the virus is nearly undetectable, and people on medication can live many years. But therapy cannot completely eradicate the virus; it persists in reservoirs inside immune cells, a phenomenon called “latency.” This latent reservoir forms even when a person begins therapy very early after infection, but the dynamics of the reservoir’s formation have been largely unknown. Now scientists have discovered evidence that the initial use of ART alters the host environment to allow the formation or stabilization of most of the long-lived HIV reservoir that is then present for many years.

This research was published in Science Translational Medicine and led by scientists at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, the University of Cape Town and the CAPRISA research team in South Africa.

Their research shows that the long-lived reservoir of HIV in blood mostly reflects viral strains that were present at the time treatment was initiated, with these latent viruses persisting after years of treatment. The implication is that treatment itself indirectly contributes to the formation of most of the latent HIV reservoir—or alternatively that the viral reservoir population is unstable prior to treatment but stabilizes when treatment starts.

Read more on the School of Medicine’s website.

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