HIV Kills Brain Cells, Prevents Stem Cell Division

Armen Hareyan's picture

HIV kills brain cells and prevents stem cells from dividing and formingnew cells, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, Reuters reports.The damage to cells contributes to HIV-associated dementia, which cancause confusion, sleep disturbance and memory loss (Reuters, 8/15).


Researchers from the University of California-San Diego and the Burnham Institute for Medical Researchidentified the protein gp120, which is found on the outside of HIV. Theresearchers found that gp120 damages brain cells and then prevents theformation of new cells in mice (Dayton, Australian,8/16). "It's a double hit to the brain," Marcus Kaul -- an assistantprofessor of infectious diseases and immunology at UCSD and BIMR and astudy researcher -- said in a statement, adding, "The HIV protein bothcauses brain injury and prevents its repair" (Reuters, 8/15). According to the Australian,although highly active antiretroviral therapy causes HIV-associateddementia to be less severe, the condition's prevalence has not declinedwith the advent of HAART. Bruce Brew -- head of neurology at St. Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, Australia -- said that about 20% of people living with AIDS develop HIV-associated dementia (Australian, 8/16). The condition also is becoming more common as HIV-positive people live longer because of antiretrovirals.

Accordingto study author Stuart Lipton, the "breakthrough" in the research isthat scientists were able to determine that HIV prevents stem celldivision. Lipton added that the study is the "first time that the virushas ever been shown to affect stem cells." Kaul said the identificationof gp120 could lead to treatments for HIV-associated dementia thatinvolve "ramping up brain repair or protecting the repair mechanism" (Reuters, 8/15).

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