A cell surface marker has been discovered that could be used to identify and study populations of immune cells that harbour hidden reservoirs of HIV-1, a Nature paper reports. The newly identified biomarker could aid the development of potential therapies aimed at targeting these persistent viral reservoirs. Current antiretroviral therapies can suppress HIV-1 production and spread but they do not eradicate the virus from cellular reservoirs.
CD4 T cells represent one of the predominant types of immune cell that can harbour a reservoir of dormant HIV. Monsef Benkirane and colleagues studied cultured CD4 T cells that are non-productively infected with HIV (whereby the virus does replicate). They identify a protein called CD32a that is expressed on the surface of these dormant cells, but not in productively infected cells or in non-infected cells. The authors validate these results using blood samples from 12 antiretroviral-treated HIV-infected patients.
Taken together, the findings suggest that CD32a fulfils the necessary criteria of a biomarker for dormant CD4 T cells that harbour HIV-1. Further research is needed to understand the functional significance of CD32a expression on reservoir cells, but the study represents an important step towards future therapeutic strategies to target and eliminate the HIV-1 reservoir, which would be required to achieve a cure for HIV.