University of Minnesota researchers may have unlocked another key mystery surrounding HIV that may explain why one quarter of HIV patients taking anti-HIV drugs do not experience T-cell count increases while others have dramatic improvements. The scientists discovered that for some patients, inflammatory cells sent by the body to help fight HIV in the lymph nodes damaged lymph node tissues inadvertently. This damage resulted in scarring within the lymph nodes, which prevented T cells from being able to replicate in the nodes and replenish the immune cells being killed off by HIV.
The study showed that the amount of damage in the lymph nodes was directly related to the size of the patient's T-cell population--the more scarring present, the lower the T-cell count. A larger study is planned. If the initial findings are also observed in the expanded research project, the discovery could lead doctors to examine the lymph nodes of their patients to predict how well they will respond to drug treatments. It may also lead to studies of compounds that aim to limit lymph-node damage in HIV-positive patients. The full study appears in the October 16 edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.