HIV: Early Treatment Is Crucial For Immune System Balance, New 'Puzzle Piece' Discovered

First Posted: Feb 03, 2016 02:14 PM EST

Innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) are immune cells that have several responsibilities in immune response to microorganisms that cause infection, as well as play a role in homeostasis and inflammation regulation. In a study from the University of Copenhagen and its Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, these cells were shown to be destroyed by those with HIV infections.

Henrik Kløverpris led the research team, which found that in standard procedures for treating HIV - that is usually initiated during what's known as the chronic infection stage or clinical latency stage - ILCs are already destroyed. 

"We can see that the ILCs are eradicated from the HIV patients' blood during acute HIV infection in the first weeks following infection - and since we know that the ILCs in general are important for maintaining balance of the immune system - it is probable that this can have an impact on the development of AIDS and immune deficiencies if the ILCs are destroyed. However, very early treatment a few days after infection protects patients against the loss of ILCs from the blood. Such treatment also protects other important components of the immune system which are similarly retained," Kløverpris said, according to a news release.

Kløverpris said he hopes that this study will help to uncover more of the disease process of HIV, which currently remains incompletely mapped. The consequences of the loss of ILCs is unknown.

"We hope to take the first step towards a better understand of the progression of the disease so that we can identify new methods to manipulate the immune system and thus prevent the disease from developing," Kløverpris said. "This is important for HIV patients during antiviral treatment, as the immune systems of these patients show increased activity, which is an important factor in the development of AIDS. Looking further ahead, we are hoping to be able to find or develop drugs that can affect the ILCs."

The study, published in the journal Immunity, was carried out at the Kwazulu-Natal Research Institute for TB & HIV in Durban, South Africa, in the Alasdair Lab. The percentage of women in that are infected with HIV is over 40 percent, which allowed the team to find HIV infections in women, who were tested twice weekly, within a few days.

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