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How HIV Hides in the Brain

HIV-positive people are particularly susceptible to the early onset of dementia.

HIV-positive people are particularly susceptible to the early onset of dementia. Credit: Mehau Kulyk/Science Photo Library

By Lachlan Gray

With the introduction of the latest drugs and treatments, infection with HIV no longer represents a death sentence. However, HIV-positive people are particularly susceptible to the early onset of dementia and several other conditions of ageing, such as cardiovascular disease, frailty, cancers and bone disease. New research has found that when the HIV virus gets into the brain, it infects a key cell type, the astrocyte, leading to its dysfunction. This, in turn, triggers the development of HIV dementia, and at the same time provides HIV with a hideout where it is protected from the immune system and antiviral drugs.

Lachlan Gray is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Burnet Institute and Monash University.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects the cells of the immune system, rendering the body defenceless to opportunistic infections and cancers and ultimately leading to the development of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and the death of the patient. HIV is a blood-borne virus, and is predominantly transmitted via the exchange of bodily fluids during sexual contact, sharing of contaminated needles, and during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

HIV/AIDS remains one of the world’s biggest health problems, affecting 33.4 million people worldwide in 2009, the vast majority of which are in low- and middle-income countries. HIV/AIDS is the world’s leading infectious killer, claiming more than 27 million lives, with an estimated two million deaths each year.

Medical research into HIV/AIDS has made many advances since HIV was identified as the causative agent of AIDS in 1981. Through this research we now understand a lot more about how the virus replicates and infects cells. These discoveries have enabled us to design antiviral drugs that target key processes in the HIV life cycle.

Despite the development of many successful antiviral drugs, drugs alone are unable to cure HIV. Additionally, all vaccine candidates to date have failed to provide protective immunity.

The major problem we face in designing an effective vaccine against HIV is its...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.