TODAY Weekend: AIDS virus attacks brain on two fronts: study

Saturday, August 18, 2007

AIDS virus attacks brain on two fronts: study

Weekend • August 18, 2007

The AIDS virus does not only destroy brain cells it also inhibits the body from making new ones, according to a new study published in the United States.

"It's a double hit to the brain," wrote researcher Marcus Kaul in the study into the causes of the condition known as HIV-associated dementia published in the August issue of the Cell Stem Cell.

A protein known as gp120 which is found on the surface of the HIV virus is responsible for the damage, the researchers from the Burnham Institute for Medical research and the University of California at San Diego found.

"The breakthrough here is that the AIDS virus prevents stem cells in the brain from dividing; it hangs them up," said Stuart Lipton. "It's the first time that the virus has ever been shown to affect stem cells."

"The HIV protein both causes brain injury and prevents its repair," added Kaul.

The study found that gp120 in mice slowed down the production of new neurons in the hippocampus, the region of the brain which is vital for learning and memory.

It has been long known that HIV infection could lead to acute dementia, but the numbers of cases are rising as HIV patients live longer thanks to drug therapies.

Current anti-viral drugs cannot however easily penetrate into the brain tissue, thus leaving behind a reservoir of the virus.

Scientists believe the team's research could help determine a new course of treatment for HIV dementia.

"This indicates we might eventually treat this form of dementia by either ramping up brain repair or protecting the brain mechanism," Kaul said. — AFP