Cocaine use may increase vulnerability to HIV infection

Cocaine users may be more vulnerable to HIV due to altered immune cells, not just risky behavior.
Posted By KRISTEN BUTLER,  |  Sept. 30, 2013 at 2:38 PM
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Cocaine may increase vulnerability to HIV infection by altering immune cells, according to a new report from researchers at the University of California Los Angeles.

A team of researchers from multiple departments found that cocaine alters "quiescent CD4 T" immune cells rendering them susceptible to the virus. The alteration also allows increased proliferation of the virus.

Scientists collected healthy human blood samples, isolated quiescent CD4 T cells, exposed them to cocaine, and then infected them with HIV.

Researchers compared the progression of the virus's life cycle against that in untreated cells. They found that cocaine rendered this subset of cells vulnerable to HIV, resulting in higher rates of infection and new virus production.

"The co-epidemics of elicit drug use and infectious disease are well documented, though typically this connection is thought to occur through lifestyle choices and increased exposure," said John Wherry, Ph.D., Deputy Editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, in which the findings were published.

"What often does not come to mind is that drugs such as cocaine may be helping to fuel infections in this high-risk population by altering the immune system," Wherry said.

Wherry added that the findings highlight "the need for improved education for both HIV prevention and drug abstinence."

"We ultimately hope that our studies will provide a better understanding of how drugs of abuse impact how our body defends itself against disease," said senior author Dimitrios Vatakis of UCLA's Department of Medicine and the UCLA AIDS Institute. "Such discovery can significantly improve the quality of life of drug users."

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