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article imageHIV rapidly invades the brain, following infection

By Tim Sandle     Apr 11, 2015 in Science
San Fransisco - The virus that causes AIDS can rapidly replicate and mutate in the brain, as early as four months after initial infection, a science team report.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) enters the brain very early in the course of infection. On doing so it starts to evolve separately from the blood-based viral population as early as 140 days (around 4 months) after initial infection.
This is based on a study undertaken at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and the University of California, San Francisco; together with collaborators at Yale . The multifaceted research group analyzed cerebral spinal fluid and blood from 72 HIV-positive patients who were not being treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART). The researchers found that 30 percent of the patients either had replicating viruses or signs of inflammation in their spinal fluid, and that these symptoms persisted for varying amounts of time in 16 percent of the patients, suggesting an ongoing infection.
Further, the scientists genetically sequenced the viral genomes from approximately half of the patients. From five months after infection to the two-year end point of the study, 20 percent of those 33 patients had developed mutations in the population of virus residing in the brain that differed from the blood-based virus.
Commenting on the research, lead investigator Serena Spudich of Yale University told The Atlantic: “The implication is that there’s a specific infection of the brain rather than HIV just being carried in the blood and passing through the brain."
The finding is important because is HIV can cause cognitive impairment, leading to HIV-associated dementia in one-third of patients who are not on ART. A genetically distinct viral population in the brain could also make the disease more difficult to treat, since some medications may not be able to target an infection there.
The study has been published in the journal PLoS Pathogens. The article is titled "Compartmentalized Replication of R5 T Cell-Tropic HIV-1 in the Central Nervous System Early in the Course of Infection."
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