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Scientists learn why even treated genital herpes sores boost the risk of HIV infection
Date:8/2/2009

esions with the drug acyclovir does not reduce the risk of HIV infection posed by HSV-2 (http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/news/newsreleases/2008/hptn039.htm). The current study sought to understand why this is so and to test an alternative theory.

"We hypothesized that sores and breaks in the skin from HSV-2 are associated with a long-lasting immune response at those locations, and that the response consists of an influx of cells that are a perfect storm for HIV infection," says Dr. Corey, co-director of the Vaccine and Infectious Diseases Institute at The Hutchinson Center and head of the Virology Division in the Department of Laboratory Medicine at the University of Washington. "We believe HIV gains access to these cells mainly through microscopic breaks in the skin that occur during sex."

The research team took biopsies of genital skin tissue from eight HIV-negative men and women who were infected with HSV-2. These biopsies were taken at multiple time points: when the patients had genital herpes sores and breaks in the skin, when these lesions had healed, and at two, four and eight weeks after healing. The researchers also took biopsies from four of the patients when herpes lesions reappeared and the patients underwent treatment with oral acyclovir. The scientists continued to take biopsies at regular intervals for 20 weeks after the lesions had healed. For comparison, the investigators also took biopsies from genital tissue that did not have herpes lesions from the same patients.

Previous research has demonstrated that immune cells involved in the body's response to infection remain at the site of genital herpes lesions even after they have healed. The scientists conducting the current study made several important findings about the nature of these immune cells. First, they found that CD4+ T cellsthe cells that HIV primarily infectspopulate tissue at the sites of healed
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Contact: Laura Sivitz
sivitzl@niaid.nih.gov
301-402-1663
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Source:Eurekalert

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