A new study has revealed how stem cells can be used to amplify immune responses to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The work, published in the journal JCI Insight, describes how the use of mesenchymal stem cells, or MSCs, can be used to support the immune system to fight off the virus and may serve as an alternative to current HIV therapeutic strategies.
"Impaired immune functions in HIV infection and incomplete immune recovery pose obstacles for eradicating HIV," explained the study’s senior author, Satya Dandekar from UC Davis. "Our objective was to develop strategies to boost immunity against the virus and empower the host immune system to eradicate the virus. We sought to repair, regenerate and restore the lymphoid follicles that are damaged by the viral infection."
HIV is known to begin replicating and creating viral “reservoirs” within the lymphoid tissue in the gut. Previously, Dandekar and their team had identified downstream effects of this viral attack in the gut which include leaky gut and the destruction of the gut’s resident T cells. Currently available antiretroviral drugs work by slowing down the replication of the virus, but they aren’t able to heal the damage to lymphoid tissues caused by the infection.
"The lymphoid follicles are organized structures where the long-term immune attack is launched against pathogens by generating antibody response targeting the virus. These important regions are functionally impaired very early following HIV infection," said Dandekar.
Using a rhesus macaque model of HIV infections, the team found that when administered post-infection, MSCs initiate the restoration of damaged gut tissue and support the immune system by triggering the production of HIV-specific antibodies and viral-killing T cells.
"Stem cells are good synergistic partner components with drugs. The antiretroviral drugs can stop the fire of the viral infection but cannot restore the forest of the lymphoid tissue compartment. The MSCs would rejuvenate the field and bring back immune vitality," commented Dandekar.