T cells, important in the immune system, defend themselves when infected by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Until now, it was considered that these cells were not aware of their infection by the virus.
The study identifies the mechanism on how the cell's innate immune system (known as the interferon response) responds to HIV infection and how the virus affects this interferon response. The viral protein Vpr triggers the interferon response in T cells (as also in dendritic cells, other cells of the immune system which are also infected by HIV). Vpu, another viral protein, suppresses the interferon response.
This discovery is the result of research by Dr. Jolien Vermeire and colleagues under supervision of Dr. Bruno Verhasselt at Ghent University and Ghent University Hospital
A better understanding of the innate defense against HIV could in the long term allow to complement the current treatment.
Because HIV infects and functionally impairs immune cells, untreated patients loose a functional immune system. As a consequence, germs and some cancers are given free rein (AIDS). Even if the virus is kept under control with medication, inflammation and degradation of established immunity is observed in some patients. This study provides a possible explanation why this happens and options to deal with this.
This research, published in the journal Cell Reports is a collaboration between researchers from the University of Ulm and Institut Pasteur, Paris, and was supported by European and Flemish research funds (FWO and BOF Ghent University).
Article: HIV Triggers a cGAS-Dependent, Vpu- and Vpr-Regulated Type I Interferon Response in CD4+ T Cells, Jolien Vermeire, Ferdinand Roesch, Daniel Sauter, Réjane Rua, Dominik Hotter, Anouk Van Nuffel, Hanne Vanderstraeten, Evelien Naessens, Veronica Iannucci, Alessia Landi, Wojciech Witkowski, Ann Baeyens, Frank Kirchhoff, Bruno Verhasselt, Cell Reports, doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.09.023, published 4 October 2016.