HIV replicates by infecting activated CD4 T cells, which then produce copies of the virus and eventually die of programmed cell death, or apoptosis. But if that were all, these destroyed T cells could easily be replaced by resting T cells cells, which make up 95% of the targets encountered by the invading virus. Instead, though, the resting cells also die, in what is called a “vicious pathological cycle.” In a series of experiments,a new study shows that the resting cells are the targets of “abortive infection,” which cannot lead to fully formed HIV particles because the cells are not activated. Instead, fragments of HIV DNA are scattered around the cell, eventually attracting the attention of a sensor molecule, interferon-gamma-inducible protein 16, or IFI16. This initiates a process of cell death. This is a new understanding of the process by which HIV attacks the immune system. This could lead to a new class of drug, called caspase inhibitors, and could be a significant step towards a cure.
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