Researchers have engineered killer T cells that are better able to limit the spread of HIV in cell culture. The study published this week in Nature Medicine finds that the enhanced cells can also recognise virus that has mutated to try and escape this response.
T cells are alerted to the presence of HIV by the T-cell receptor (TCR), which recognises fragments of virus proteins displayed as warning flags on the surface of infected cells. Current methods to isolate specific T cells that recognise HIV rely on cloning cells from HIV patients ? a slow and painstaking process ? and often these cells have TCRs that only weakly detect virus-infected cells. The virus can also mutate to avoid being detected.
James Riley and colleagues used ‘phage display’ technology to isolate a TCR from T cells from an HIV infected patient, which identified a fragment of the virus particularly well. The team then engineered the TCR to be much better at finding the virus. Putting this TCR into T cells created killer cells that were better at restricting the spread of HIV in cell culture. It remains to be seen whether these T cells can control virus infection in animals or patients and therefore become a practical form of therapy.