HIV Can Hide in Tissue, Eluding Treatment, Research Finds

Washington – Scientists are finding that the HIV virus is able to hide deep inside human tissues, and elude the drugs that are attempting to restore the immune system. 

University of California Davis (UC Davis) researchers conducted the study with support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The findings are reported in the August edition of the Journal of Virology

In a three year study of patients living with HIV/AIDS, the researchers found that the virus is able to survive efforts to destroy it by hiding in the mucous tissues that line the intestine, continuing to suppress the patient’s immune system, even while a regimen of drug treatment may be under way.

“The real battle between the virus and exposed individuals is happening in the gut immediately after viral infection,” said Satya Dandekar, senior author of the study and the chair of the Department of Medical Microbiology at UC Davis. “We need to be focusing our efforts on improving treatment of gut mucosa [the mucous membrane lining the alimentary canal from mouth to anus] where massive destruction of immune cells is occurring.”

Previous research has shown that lymphoid tissue makes a significant contribution to the body’s immune response and its capability to combat the HIV virus. Dandekar said these new findings underscore the importance of finding ways to protect the function of lymphoid tissue.

The findings reported in the Journal of Virology showed inflammation in the gut disrupted tissue function, and promoted cell death. The researchers suggest that the prevention of inflammation is one key to preserving the immune response in the gut.  Anti-inflammatory drugs may help, the researchers suggest, and could improve the effectiveness of HAART treatment.

Early initiation of highly active anti-retroviral therapy – HAART – was another factor that appeared to prevent inflammation and better enable the gut mucosal immune system to do its job. HIV-positive persons who had begun drug treatment within weeks of their initial exposure to the virus had much better outcomes than those who were known to be infected for more than one year.

“What we continue to see is that restoration of immune function is more likely when treatment is started early,” said gastroenterologist Thomas Prindiville, a co-author of the study.  “If you are able to restore the gut’s immune response, the patient will be more likely to clear the virus.”


A second study released in the new medical literature finds that some of the answers to beating HIV/AIDS may be found in the body’s own systems.

Earlier in 2006, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine-Northwest identified a protein produced by the body itself that serves as a first line of defense against bacterial infections.

In the July 28 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Roman Dziarsky and Dipika Gupta, propose that these proteins called PGLYRP – for peptidoglycan recognition proteins – might be used to develop medications that could boost the impaired day-to-day response to bacteria of the HIV-infected person. It is a strategy that could help persons living with HIV/AIDS, the researchers suggest, but also people suffering from other maladies, which cripple the immune system.

Many parts of the body produce these bacteria-fighting proteins, the Indiana University researchers report. In healthy people, these proteins mount a defense and easily prevent bacterial infections.  PGLYRP also appear to be the system’s “first responders” at the introduction of infection, moving into action before the main immune system responds.

For information on U.S. policy, see HIV/AIDS.