Scientists Suggest Counter-Intuitive Approach to Treating HIV and Other Chronic Viral Infections

UCLA scientists and colleagues have shown that temporarily blocking a protein critical to immune response actually helps the body clear itself of chronic infection. Published online on April 12, 2013 in Science, the finding suggests new approaches to treating persistent viral infections like HIV and hepatitis C. The research team studied type-1 interferons (IFN-1) (image shows structure), proteins released by cells in response to disease-causing organisms that enable cells to talk to each other and orchestrate an immune response against infection. Constant IFN-1 signaling is also a trademark of chronic viral infection and disease progression, particularly in HIV. "When cells confront viruses, they produce type-1 interferons, which trigger the immune system's protective defenses and set off an alarm to notify surrounding cells," explained principal investigator Dr. David Brooks, assistant professor of microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine and College of Letters and Sciences. "Type-1 interferon is like the guy in the watch tower yelling, 'red alert,' when the marauders try to raid the castle." Scientists have long viewed IFN-1 as beneficial, because it stimulates antiviral immunity and helps control acute infection. Blocking IFN-1 activity, they reasoned, would allow infection to run rampant through the immune system. On the other hand, prolonged IFN-1 signaling is linked to many chronic immune problems. The research team wondered whether obstructing the signaling pathway would enable the immune system to recover enough to fight off chronic infection. To test this theory, Dr. Brooks and his colleagues injected mice suffering from chronic viral infection with an antibody that temporarily blocked IFN-1 activity.
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