Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences

Snuffing Out the Burning Coals

October 26, 2016
Image of HIV cells in B cell follicles

Infection by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that eventually leads to AIDS is presently incurable, in part because the virus hides from killer T  lymphocytes. This type of white blood cell seeks out and eliminates virus-infected cells, which are commonly found in lymphoid follicles. HIV within infected cells “simmers” in these follicles for the life of an infected person, similar to burning coals in a grill.  

Dr. Pam Skinner and her investigative team addressed this important medical conundrum in a study published in the Journal of Virology. They examined killer T cells in lymphoid follicles of rhesus monkeys that were infected with the simian immunodeficiency virus, a cousin to the human virus. The team discovered that although there were several inhibitory factors in follicles, such as regulatory cells that suppress T cell killing, some T cells were still able to eliminate infected cells within follicles. These studies support Dr. Skinner’s present research endeavors funded by three newly-awarded NIH grants to study how to make killer T cells migrate into lymphoid follicles and potentially cure HIV infections.  

by David R. Brown,PhD, VBS Vice Chair