AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) carries a ‘key’ to the cellular ‘doors’ of the immune system. Once inside, the virus either ransacks the cell or ‘squats’ indefinitely. This could last a few weeks or many years. Should the virus receive a signal to search out a fresh haven, it can transfer easily from cell to cell. How it does so has not been clear, until recently. Now researchers have discovered a means of cell communication that provides an ideal portal for the itinerant virus. T cells – a common target for HIV – (represented in red and green) collide within our bloodstream. As they pull apart a fine tube of membrane can keep them connected. Infecting some cells with HIV and shaking them so that such nanotubes can't form, prevents the virus from ‘moving home’. Researchers believe this is an important mode of HIV transmission presenting new opportunities for drug therapy.
Written by Lindsey Goff
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.