Novel Model Predicts Growth, Progression of HIV-Infection in the Brain

Mathematical model brings scientists a step closer to developing total viral suppression strategies among patients with HIV.

Scientists have created a novel mathematical model that allows them to see the progression and development of HIV-infection in the brain.

To develop the model, investigators used data from patients who died 5 to 15 years after becoming infected with HIV, along with known biological processes for the virus.

The model can predict the growth and progression of HIV in the brain from the start of infection. It is the first model of an infectious disease in the brain.

“The nature of HIV virus allows it to travel across the blood-brain barrier in infected macrophage—–or white blood cell––as early as 2 weeks after infection,” said Weston Roda, lead investigator of the study published in the Journal of NeuroVirology. “Antiretroviral drugs, the therapy of choice for HIV, cannot enter the brain so easily.”

Prior to the study, scientists were only able to examine brain infection at autopsy. Now, they can see the entire progression and development of the virus in the brain. This allows the scientists to determine the level of efficacy needed for antiretroviral therapy to decrease active infection in the brain.

“The more we understand and can target treatment toward viral reservoirs, the closer we get to developing total suppression strategies of HIV infection,” Roda said.

Using information on dosage and improvement rate provided by the new model, investigators are already planning clinical trials for a nasal spray that could get the drugs to the brain faster.

“Our next steps are to understand other viral reservoirs, like the gut, and develop models similar to this one, as well as understand latently infected cell populations in the brain,” Roda said “With antiretroviral therapy, infected cells can go into a latent stage. The idea is to determine the size of the latently infected population so that clinicians can develop treatment strategies.”