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Fibers in Semen Help HIV Penetrate Cells
Date:12/13/2007

The chances of infection are boosted 50-fold to 100,000-fold, study finds

THURSDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- In a discovery that perplexes HIV experts, an international team reports that tiny fibers commonly found in semen drastically enhance the ability of the virus to do its damage.

According to a study in the Dec. 14 issue of Cell, the fibers capture the virus and then ferry it to target cells, increasing its ability to infect someone by more than 50 times in some cases and more than 100,000 times in others.

The findings could help scientists better understand how AIDS is transmitted. But Rowena Johnston, director of research with the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), noted that the value of the research is limited, because it doesn't "necessarily reflect transmission in the 'real world.' "

"This is intriguing, and it's worth further investigation," said Johnston. "But there's nothing yet that makes me have a 'Eureka' moment."

While scientists have long known about the basics of AIDS transmission, it's not clear why the virus travels more easily through some routes than others.

For example, male-to-female sexual transmission is usually more common than the other way around but not always. And it's also not clear why the virus has become so prevalent even though it has a tiny presence in blood.

In the new study, led by a German team, scientists tried to figure out if components of human semen might affect transmission of the AIDS virus.

"We were not expecting to find an enhancer and were even more surprised about the strength," study author Dr. Frank Kirchhoff, of the University Clinic of Ulm, said in a statement. "Most enhancers have maybe a two- or threefold effect, but here, the effect was amazing, more than 50-fold, and, under certain conditions, more than 100,000-fold. At first, I didn't believe it, but we ran the experiment over and over, always with the
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