How HIV Virus Causes the Chronic Lung Disease Emphysema

Various studies have shown that up to 30 percent of HIV patients being treated with antiretroviral therapies (ARVs) will, at some point of their lives, develop emphysema a chronic lung disease. A recent research conducted by researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine has been able to establish how this lung disease occurs in HIV positive patients.

This study was published in the May issue of Cell Reports. The researchers reveal how HIV attaches itself to stem cells known as basal cells. These cells then transform into other types of cells that position themselves on the airways.

Tissue Destroying Enzymes

During this process of transformation, the basal cells are reprogrammed causing them to produce the protease enzymes. These enzymes then destroy lung tissue and drill holes in walls of the air sacs, affecting oxygen exchange.

According to the senior author of the study, Dr. Ronald Crystal, the research is indeed important in the search for better treatment of HIV/AIDS. While he admits that experts have managed to turn HIV from a death sentence to a chronic disease through ARVs, he feels that it’s important to take note of the viral reservoirs left in tissues such as the lungs by ARVs consequently causing serious side effects.

The researcher who is also a Bruce Webster Professor of Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, said that more information on how the HIV virus is causing emphysema is good because it will help scientists to understand the enzymes responsible of the lung disease and hopefully find a remedy to prevent further lung damage in HIV patients.

The world has an approximately 18.2 million living with HIV. The good news is that a majority of these people have access to ARVs. In the United States only, 1.2 million are on ARVs. This is fantastic because the drugs have greatly expanded lifespans.

More Degenerative Disorders Reported among HIV Patients

Unfortunately, even though HIV positive people are now living longer due to ARVs, they are also facing more degenerative heart, lungs and brain disorders. In fact their rates of disorders are higher than the general population.

During the study, the researchers used normal human airway basal cells, obtained from lungs of healthy people who did not smoke. They put the cells under observation and exposed them to HIV for a set period of time.

They observed that the virus bonded to the cells instead of entering and reproducing in them. The virus then reprogrammed the cells to start secreting protease. This enzyme is capable of breaking down proteins and destroy the metalloprotease-9 tissues.

When the basal cells turn into protease producing cells, they begin to eat away at the healthy tissue, in this case the lungs, and with time, this causes emphysema. Dr Crystal says this observation of how the HIV virus alters the function of cells helps in the understanding of other viruses that operate in a similar fashion, such as the Zika virus.

The doctor says that they are planning to conduct further research in a bid to find a preventative therapeutic method without this side effect. If you suspect that you or someone you know have been exposed to the HIV virus, Shim Clinic offers a HIV PEP treatment that reduces the HIV risk by more than 90% so do not hesitate to contact us for more information regarding this treatment process.

Source: Cell Reports