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Very early seeding of SIV viral reservoir found

July 20, 2014
Nature paper sheds light on challenges associated with cure research

A research team led by investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in collaboration with MHRP has demonstrated that the viral reservoir is established extremely early after simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) infection of rhesus monkeys and before the virus can be detected in the blood.  The findings appeared online on July 20 in the journal Nature.

The viral reservoir poses a critical challenge in the quest to cure HIV infection since it contains cells in which the HIV virus can lie dormant for many years, thereby avoiding elimination by antiretroviral therapy (ART). Very little had been known about when and where the viral reservoir is established during acute HIV infection, or the extent to which it is susceptible to early ART.

“Our data show that in this animal model, the viral reservoir was seeded substantially earlier after infection than was previously recognized,” explains senior author Dan H. Barouch, MD, PhD, Director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at BIDMC and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.  

In this study, the scientific team initiated ART in groups of monkeys on days 3, 7, 10 and 14 after infection with SIV, a virus that infects monkeys and causes illness resembling HIV infection in humans. Animals treated 3 days following infection showed no evidence of virus in the blood and did not generate any SIV-specific immune responses. However, after six months of ART, treatment was halted and all of the animals in the study exhibited viral resurgence.

According to Dr. Nelson Michael, MHRP Director and study co-author, "these studies showed us that the viral reservoir is established in the rhesus model less than three days after exposure to virus when there is no evidence of infection in the blood. We are likely going to need to use other modalities, along with antiretroviral drugs, to clear the viral reservoir regardless of how early we initiate therapy."