Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States have solved the mystery of why, in some cases, antiretroviral therapy does not lead to the disappearance of HIV from the patient's blood. Even if the patient adheres to the course of treatment correctly, the test results demonstrate the apparent resistance of the virus. This is reported in an article published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The researchers concluded that replicons, clones of HIV-infected cells that produce viral particles, are responsible for the lack of visible response to antiretroviral therapy. Replicons can grow large and produce enough virus to give the impression that the therapy is not working, even if it is not. Modern HIV medications block the infection of new cells, but do not interfere with the production of the virus from already infected cells.
While there is no evidence that viral particles produced by replicons are capable of infecting new cells, they can provoke chronic inflammation. In addition, if therapy is stopped, the virus can recover faster. Replicons themselves are a key barrier to the development of an effective HIV drug.
In the future, scientists plan to find out how replicons escape from the immune system, and how they can be effectively destroyed in order to finally cure the infection.