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Gum disease can awaken dormant HIV viruses

7 January 2015

Gum disease can awaken dormant HIV viruses

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University have found that by-products of bacteria in gum disease, called metabolic small chain fatty acid (SCFA), can work together to wake up HIV in dormant T-cells and cause the virus to replicate.

Published in the journal Virology, this study helps explain why people with HIV-infections and periodontal disease have higher levels of the virus in their saliva than HIV patients with healthy gums.

Study investigators Fengchun Ye and Jonathan Karn say that in the interaction between gum disease and HIV, five SCFA by-products from two prevalent oral bacteria are involved in activating resting immune T-cells carrying inactive HIV-1 virus.

All humans have resting T-cells that wake up and respond to inflammation to ward off an infection in the body. For people with HIV, however, these T-cells can also have the sleeper HIV-1 virus, which remains in a dormant state until awakened.

HIV antiviral therapy prevents active HIV cells from replicating and doesn’t affect the quiet viruses in sleeping T-cells. Karn says that as long as the patient is free of gum disease, the virus sleeps and remains in check. 

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