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Infection of cells filmed for the first time

New insights into HIV transmission

French researchers have recently succeeded in filming the HI-virus live in the first stages of infection. The images show new and unknown details of the HIV transmission path, which can be used for the prevention and treatment of HIV infections.

Virological synapses as the entry point

During sexual intercourse, the HI-virus enters the human body through the genital mucosa. In this process, it first infects T-cells, which are prolific in body fluids. The infected T-cells then create connections, known as “virological synapses”, with the outer cell layer (epithelial cells). The virus then passes through the epithelial cells into the macrophages, which are its actual target and which are located on the opposite side of the epithelial cells. The virus thus uses the T-cells as a “vehicle” to reach the macrophages and then multiples in the macrophages for about 20 days before entering a dormant phase. The cells are thus reservoirs of an early stage of HIV infection and have so far not been adequately researched.

Targeted approach by the virus

The film images show genetically engineered, green fluorescent HI-viruses as they penetrate the epithelial cells of reconstructed natural vaginal mucosa. In the video, an infected T-cell shoots green fluorescent HI-viruses into an epithelial cell via a synapse. Unexpectedly for the researchers, the viruses do not remain in the epithelial cells for any length of time and, using the T-cells, appear to be able to dock specifically onto those epithelial cells that have macrophages on their opposite side. This means that effective protection against HIV, through an injection, for example, must start “at the mucous membrane” whenever possible, i.e. before the HI-virus infects the first T-cells in the body fluids. New insights into how the virus controls T-cells can be used for new approaches in HIV treatment. 

Link to Video


1. Osterkamp, J. (2018): HIV bei den ersten Infektionsschritten gefilmt. Retrieved June 6, 2018 from https://www.spektrum.de/news/hiv-bei-den-ersten-infektionsschritten-gefilmt/1564318

2. Real, F. et al. (2018): Live Imaging of HIV-1 Transfer across T Cell Virological Synapse to Epithelial Cells that Promotes Stromal Macrophage Infection. Retrieved June 6, 2018 from https://www.cell.com/cell-reports/fulltext/S2211-1247(18)30570-9