Australian scientists say HIV can essentially hide in the brain, posing a new challenge in the search for a cure for the virus, the Australian Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Melbourne-based Dr. Melissa Churchill said HIV has been known to hide out in in other parts of the body, including the gut, spleen, testes and bone marrow. But Churchill's latest research recently found that it also can hide out in astrocyte cells in the brain.
"The astrocytes are basically the support cells — they mop up toxins released from other cells and maintain a really nice environment for the neurons to function,'' Churchill told AAP. "Previously, people weren't sure if we have to actually consider it as a genuine viral reservoir, but it is.''
Churchill, from the Burnett Institute, teamed up with researchers at Monash University, St. Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, Australia, and John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., for her latest research.
They used high-powered microscopes to examine brain tissue from HIV-positive people to gauge the presence of the virus in these astrocyte cells. Churchill said it had been thought the virus had about a "1 percent" presence in this area, but the research showed it had about a 19 percent presence, which is considered "very significant."
The discovery poses new challenges for scientists trying to find ways to eradicate HIV from the body.
"One of the issues of the brain as a reservoir is that it's quite inaccessible to the immune system and to antiretrovirals,'' Churchill said.