A recent study that has been conducted by the Dutch in regard to how we humans contract the HIV virus, or rather, why we don’t contract it at a very high rate.
It has been reported that humans actually resist the virus very well; in fact, during one act of penile-vaginal intercourse in which one of the partners is HIV positive, there is a one in one-hundred to two-hundred odds of the uninfected partner in being infected, according to Dr. Jeffrey Laurence, director of the Laboratory for AIDS Virus Research at the Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York City.
And what do we have to thank for our resistance to this life threatening virus? The cells in the mucosal lining of human genitalia which produce a protein, called Langerin, which “eats up” the virus before it infects its host.
The scientist are now considering that the boosting the protein might be key in curbing transmission of the virus.
The Langerin protein is produced by Langerhans cells. The cells are a web-like barrier that is in both mucosa and in skin. This is one of the initial structures in the body that viruses such as HIV have to fight through in order to infect our bodies.
Lead researcher in the study, Teunis Geijtenbeek, an immunologist researcher at Vrije University Medical Center in Amsterdam, said “We observed that Langerin is able to scavenge viruses from the surrounding environment, thereby preventing infection… And since generally all tissues on the outside of our bodies have Langerhans cells, we think that the human body is equipped with an antiviral defense mechanism, destroying incoming viruses.”
The ability for the body to fight HIV has been compared to the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer, in the way that the body, if exposed to HPV, is without a doubt going to contract the virus. It is 100% certain that HPV exposure will infect.
So when does the body become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)? In only a few different circumstances; one might become infected when the level of HIV is very high, or when Langerin activity is low.
Geijtenbeek reports further that scientists know that the Langerin gene differs among people, and that might offer further explaination about why some people contract the virus and others don’t. This is something the scientists will be investigating. Also, they will be looking into preventative, topical microbicides that might offer protection for women.
But Dr. Laurence does warn, that, “In the test tube, this is a very important finding… But there are many things in the test tube that don’t occur when you get into an animal or a human. Having said that, though, this is a very intriguing finding.”
The study was published in the online edition of Nature Medicine on March 4th.