Multiple Sclerosis Drug Effective Fighting HIV Viral Reservoir

Medication also used in treatment of Crohn's disease effective at blocking pathways.

Medication also used in treatment of Crohn’s disease effective at blocking pathways.

A treatment currently used for patients with Crohn's disease and multiple sclerosis was found to be effective at blocking pathways to HIV reservoirs in the brain and gut during a recent study.

Reported recently in PLOS Pathogens, the study evaluated the humanized antibody natalizumab (Tysabri), which was found to effectively block a molecule used by 2 types of white blood cells to travel to the brain and the gut. The cells subsequently collect in viral reserves that are associated with debilitating illnesses that affect people with HIV.

The researchers found that a 3-week course of natalizumab, applied 4 weeks after infection, was able to reverse lesions on the central nervous system. The study also discovered that it is possible to physically block the traffic of the virus to the brain, which is transported in disease-fighting monocytes and macrophages.

An additional trial found that a 3-week course of the drug at the time of experimental infection in animals completely blocked the virus from traveling to the brain and the gut. The results confirmed that monocytes spread the virus to the central nervous system and leukocytes lead to a gut infection, which are precursors to a number of illnesses, according to the study.

"We actually stopped all traffic and showed that if you physically block monocytes and macrophages, the virus does not enter the brain," senior author and Boston College Professor of Biology Ken Williams said in a press release. "And even if full and major lesions of the central nervous system are present, application of the antibody can heal that damage and eliminate the virus, underscoring the necessity for continued traffic of cells to the central nervous system and the gut to maintain infection and lesions."

The researchers said it may be possible to treat HIV at the time of infection with an antibody in combination with antiretroviral drugs, which could stop the seeding of HIV reservoirs in the brain and gut. Meanwhile, traditional antiretroviral therapies can contain infection in lymphoid organs.

"When people talk about a 'cure' for aids, it's really about eradicating these viral reservoirs," Williams said.