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HIV's double attack on brain

15th August 2007

Researchers have found that HIV can launch a "double attack" on the brain, which can lead to problems with cognitive functions.

hiv

A new study - using mice as test subjects - by a team from the University of California at San Diego is published in the journal Cell Stem Cell. The research was carried out with the aim of discovering new ways to treat dementia caused by the virus.

Previous studies have found that a protein called gp120, contained in the coating of the virus, causes the death of brain cells by interfering with their chemistry.

The new study discovered that the protein actively stops normal cell replacement by disabling other cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is crucial for cognitive function.

Normally, new cells produced in the hippocampus would be used in the brain to help memory function. The protein interferes with the process and stops the formation of new cells.

Researcher Dr Marcus Kaul said: "The HIV protein both causes brain injury and prevents its repair."

He commented: "We might eventually treat this form of dementia by either ramping up brain repair or protecting the repair mechanism."

Dementia associated with HIV is increasingly prevalent, due to the extended lifespan of more people with the virus. However, drugs which combat HIV find it difficult to penetrate into the brain.

Vanessa Griffiths, clinical director at the HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust said: "This is fascinating research...it may well produce benefits for people with HIV, but that is still some years away."


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