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Researchers identify toehold for HIV's assault on brain
Date:11/14/2008

his a doctor with whom Gelbard had trained became ill and died of AIDS in less than two years. His friend's struggle, and the severity of his neurological symptoms, touched Gelbard. Gradually, with the support of mentors, Gelbard came to focus on the neurological effects of HIV. He now leads a group of researchers funded by the National Institute of Mental Health that is trying to identify or create the first treatment for the neurological effects of HIV, known collectively as neuroAIDS or HIV dementia.

Scientists have known that Tat, which helps HIV operate, replicate, and infect cells, is at the forefront of HIV's attack on the brain, bringing about severe inflammation. Immune cells within the brain go into overdrive, churning out substances that attract more immune cells, and white blood cells from the body flood in and join the fray, all clumping together to form destructive entities known as multinucleated giant cells.

"Suddenly the brain environment turns from nurturing to toxic, and the brain has to work much harder to send messages. Cells are on overdrive, spending a lot more energy to do the same things they used to do easily," said Gelbard, who is director of the Center for Neural Development and Disease at Rochester.

Other changes occur throughout the brain as well. Neurons that normally reach throughout the brain by forming networks of far-reaching, delicate extensions crucial for cell communication become damaged. Instead of sprouting healthy dendrites projections that resemble tiny trees neurons in the brain of an HIV patient have had parts of their dendrites abruptly torn off, in a process known as "synaptic pruning." The dendrites begin to look like a patch of severely damaged trees after a bad ice storm.

Such damage occurs in parts of the brain crucial for thinking, decision-making, and movement and memory. That accounts for symptoms like difficulties concentrating, forgetfulness, poor coordination, confusio
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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