Researchers at the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) have made some surprising discoveries about the body's initial responses to HIV infection. Studying simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the team found that specialized cells in the intestine called Paneth cells are early responders to viral invasion and are the source of gut inflammation by producing a cytokine called interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta). Though aimed at the presence of virus, IL-1 beta causes breakdown of the gut epithelium that normally provides a barrier to protect the body against pathogens. Importantly, this occurs prior to the widespread viral infection and immune cell killing. But in an interesting twist, a beneficial bacterium, Lactobacillus plantarum, helps mitigate the virus-induced inflammatory response and protects the gut epithelial barrier. This study was published online on August 28, 2014 in an open-access article in the journal PLoS Pathogens. One of the biggest obstacles to complete viral eradication and immune recovery is the stable HIV reservoir in the gut. There is very little information about the early viral invasion and the establishment of the gut reservoir. "We want to understand what enables the virus to invade the gut, cause inflammation, and kill the immune cells," said Dr. Satya Dandekar, lead author of the study and chair of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at UC Davis. "Our study has identified Paneth cells as initial virus sensors in the gut that may induce early gut inflammation, cause tissue damage and help spread the viral infection. Our findings provide potential targets and new biomarkers for intervening or blocking early spread of viral infection," she said.
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