HIV Requires Early Treatment: B Cells Are the Key in Infected Subjects

It was very clear early on in HIV research that the earlier treatment for the disease begins, the better a person will respond to the antiretroviral medications. However, the exact reason for this has eluded researchers. A recent study of the blood of nearly 100 treated and untreated HIV-infected volunteers has provided a possible explanation as to why HIV requires early treatment. The study underscored the need to begin treatment as close to viral exposure as possible, as it not only means saved lives but it also can ensure a healthier and better quality of life for those living with HIV.

B cells are immune system cells that produce antibodies to viruses like HIV. However, in the above mentioned study, some previously unknown characteristics of B cells were discovered. The researchers found that the antibodies the B cells produced in infected but untreated people were abnormal. These B cells were more activated, more unstable and unresponsive to further stimulation as compared to normal B cells. This may explain why HIV antibodies naturally produced in the body are unable to clear the infection.

The research further discovered that those who were HIV infected—but had undergone early antiretroviral treatment—had B cell responses that were dramatically different from those who had not received treatment. In the treated patients their antibodies were normal, although there were less of them than in the untreated volunteers. The treated patient’s antibodies were also stronger and more effective on the HIV cells. This resulted in a lower amount of virus in the blood, known as a viral load. It also meant a low level of immune activation, which results in a stronger and healthier immune system. All of this underscores the fact that HIV requires early treatment. Antiretroviral medication, when prescribed during the early stages of the infection can stabilize the mutation of any cells – T cells or B cells. This means that the infected person’s natural immune defenses will be robust and better able to defend against HIV for the long run.