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.
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