Tuesday, 31 March 2009

HIV and cell-to-cell infection

There's a fiercely interesting post over at Pure Pedantry, where Jake Young taught me something today.  He took the words right out of my mouth:

It's funny how my biases work. I mean, I am not a microbiologist, but here is the bias that I had about how infections like HIV work: I figure that you have large quantities of virus floating around in your blood. These viruses invade whatever cells they happen upon, forcing them to produce more virus. Eventually those cells explode (lysis) from too much virus, setting them free into the blood to wreak more chaos. We could call this the carpet-bombing theory of viral action: limited selectivity, maximum damage.

It turns out that HIV 
doesn't work like this (mostly). In fact, it operates more much more sneakily -- like special forces -- viral ninjas, if you will. Instead of spreading out in the blood, HIV viruses transfer between infected cells through a structure called a virological synapse. (To be accurate, HIV does infect cells in a cell-free form -- this is discussed in the Introduction of the paper. However, cell-to-cell transfer of HIV is up to a thousand times more efficient and inhibiting it inhibits viral replication.)

But don't stop reading there.  Go take a look at the whole article, and finish off by watching HIV infect another cell:

This video, as well as many others, can be found at the same address (above).

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