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HIV Does More Than Mess With Your Immune System August 19, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Diseases, Human Body, Stem Cells, Think About It.

Laboratory 2You’ve probably already heard of the human immunodeficiency virus, also referred to as HIV. It’s a disease that is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen and vaginal fluid. HIV infects cells in your immune system and can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). There is no cure and immune system failure occurs from secondary infections – things as seemingly minor as a common cold – because the body simply doesn’t have the tools to fight the infection.

HIV And Dementia

We’ve known for decades now that HIV damages a person’s immune system and we’ve even known that it can cause a certain type of dementia. A decline in a person’s cognitive functioning – beyond the normal decline that occurs with aging – is what constitutes dementia. Researchers knew that an HIV protein called gp120 was causing the loss of mature brain cells.

Gp120 Causes More Problems

A new study, however, is showing that gp120 causes even more damage. The work is being led by Stuart Lipton of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in San Diego, California. Not only does it destroy mature brain cells, but it also slows down the division of neural progenitor cells. What are those? These are a type of adult stem cell. If you’re not familiar with adult stem cells or you’ve forgotten my recent stem cell primer, you can read about what stem cells are and where they come from. These neural progenitor cells are believed to be very important in learning and memory, so by slowing them down, gp120 can really wreck havoc with a person’s mental functioning. To check this out, researchers exposed the neural progenitor cells in rats to the gp120 protein. What happened? It’s not good. The result was that 15 percent of the neural progenitor cells stopped dividing.

Laboratory Finding Out About This Stuff Is Important

By finding out which parts of the body – such as the brain – the gp120 protein influences, scientists can then try to identify the enzymes that are affected. Under laboratory conditions, Lipton and his colleagues were able to stop the action of the enzymes, so the gp120 protein would not work! This means that the neural progenitor cells can hopefully get a kick-start to divide again. The study and results were published in Cell Stem Cell.

Prevent And Treat

With HIV and AIDS threatening the health and lives of enormous numbers of people around the world, preventing transmission of HIV is vital. Also important are studies such as this one, which helps us learn about how HIV can affect other systems in the human body, so we can find new treatments. It’s definitely not the cure that we all dream of finding, but it is an important step in fighting the disease.

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