A Marker of Latently Infected Cells?

Intriguing finding has scientific community abuzz

In a recent issue of the journal Nature, Dr. Monsef Benkirane, of the University of Montpelier in France, and colleagues at other French research institutions announced that they had discovered a protein that can differentiate cells that constitute the latent reservoir of HIV.

 Dr. Monsef Benkirane

Dr. Monsef Benkirane

The protein, called CD32a, is normally associated with immune cells of the innate immune system, and it is surprising to find this protein on the CD4 T cells that constitute the majority of the reservoir.

A specific marker of the reservoir has long been sought. Its central importance to HIV cure research is underlined by amfAR’s upcoming think tank in Palo Alto, CA, in April, which will bring together 14 scientists from around the world, including Benkirane, to discuss the latest advances and future efforts to find such markers.

Meanwhile, the research community will race to confirm and expand Benkirane’s results. If these findings hold up, the CD32a protein could be used to interrogate latently infected cells more closely and learn how to design interventions that could specifically eliminate the reservoir while leaving other cells in the body intact.

“Finding a definitive marker of latently infected cells would be a breakthrough for HIV cure research,” said Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR vice president and director of research. “We look forward to discussing his findings and possible next steps at our think tank in April.”