That AIDS is brought about through an HIV infection is not new knowledge. Results from a recent investigation on the process from HIV infection to AIDS, however, sheds light on the topic. Actually, the findings show that it is the body’s own cells that cause AIDS, rather than the virus directly. This new concept could change how to proceed with treatment and HIV cure.

The virus, upon entering the host, infects a healthy immune system cell (CD4 T cells). The cell in turn can infect other healthy cells. Therefore, infection is spread either from the free-floating HIV itself or via the infected cells. While this has been common knowledge for some time, it was unknown that the latter is much more destructive when it comes to disease progression. Not only is cell to cell transfer much more efficient and effective, but it can also be deadly.

Once a healthy immune cell has been infiltrated, HIV DNA fragments begin to accumulate within the cell. At first it goes undetected, but the cleaning up of these fragments becomes too much for the cell, and it is eventually detected. This overload signals the cell’s defense system. This, in turn, triggers a molecular response. The chain of events that follows is fatal, cell suicide, if you will. Once the enzyme caspase-1 is activated, what usually follows is cell death (pyroptosis). This preprogrammed response in immune cells is a type of self-defense. Cell to cell infection is so successful because mass cell ‘suicides’ are what can eventually lead to disease progression, a wiped out immune system, and AIDS.

Upon this discovery, a number of experiments were performed to confirm the findings. The results supported what had been uncovered. Scientists are sure that it is due to the efficiency in which the infection transfers from cell to cell that leads to mass cell death. In turn, treatment of HIV and preventative measures against AIDS may now focus on inhibiting cell to cell transfer rather than just on the unattached virus itself. Turning attention to CD4 T cells and coming up with solutions that will prevent infection transfers should assist in halting not just the spread of infection, but also disease progression into AIDS and thus promise of an HIV cure.