HIV spreads through contact between cells

A research group from the University of Heidelberg has used a new approach to understand how the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) spreads. The spread of this virus has been studied in the laboratory almost always in a test tube using two-dimensional cell cultures, situations that do not always reflect the much more complex ones that occur in the human body.

The study group used innovative cell culture systems as well as complex computer simulations to understand the spread of HIV in a three-dimensional environment, an area more similar to that of human tissues. With this method, the researchers were able to carefully monitor CD4 T cells, considered as the preferred type of HIV cell, in an environment very similar to that of the human body for several weeks.

After understanding the behavior of cells in a three-dimensional environment, they simulated it on the computer and were able to make important predictions of key processes involved in the spread of HIV-1. The researchers eventually discovered that the tissue structure forces the virus to spread through direct cell-cell contact.

The researchers also estimated the minimum amount of time needed for cell-to-cell contact to transmit the infection, as Frederik Graw of the Heidelberg University BioQuant Center explains. The study was then published in Nature Communications.

Of course, researchers hope that these results can be useful for new therapeutic approaches against HIV.