“Most prior studies of HIV dissemination have focused on free– roaming viruses, but this study shows us how direct T–cell–to–T–cell contact could, in fact, be the predominant mode of dissemination within the body,” Dr. Benjamin Chen, an assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, said in a school news release.
The team of researchers from Mount Sinai and from the University of California, Davis, Center for Biophotonics Science and Technology discovered that HIV moves between T–cells through structures called virological synapses.
“Direct T–cell–to–T–cell transfer through virological synapses is a highly efficient avenue of HIV infection. Our recent experiments show that the viral structural protein moves with surprising speed in infected cells, and that the cell machinery actively participates in the transport of virus between T–cells. This suggests there are many targets for interfering with the process,” Chen said.
To capture the transfer of HIV from T–cell to T–cell on video, the researchers created a molecular clone on infectious HIV that contained a green fluorescent jellyfish protein. Quantitative, high–speed, 3D video microscopy was used to record both viral particle formation and HIV transmission between T–cells.
“We found that the transfer of HIV is highly coordinated between T–cells, and that the transfer is rapid and massive. Future efforts to block HIV transmission may be designed to specifically exploit and block this cell–to–cell mode of infection,” Chen said.
The study appears in the March 27 issue of Science.