The discovery of a new HIV replication route may eventually lead to advancements in antiretroviral (ARV) therapy and attempts to eradicate the virus. Publishing their findings in the Journal of Virology, researchers investigated the phenomenon that more than 90 percent of HIV fails to integrate its DNA into human cells, leaving unintegrated viral DNA in the cell. (Integration is a key component of the HIV lifecycle; integrase inhibitors attack the virus at this juncture.) In the past, researchers have assumed that these stranded viruses could not copy themselves.

But as the scientists discovered, some of this unintegrated virus is able to skip the integration process and still reproduce itself, producing new viruses that can in turn infect other cells.
“Although this is not the virus’s main method for replicating, having this option available can help HIV survive,” the study’s lead researcher, David N. Levy, PhD, associate professor of basic science and craniofacial biology at the New York University College of Dentistry, said in a release. “These new findings suggest one mechanism by which HIV may be surviving in the face of antiviral drugs, and suggests new avenues for research into eliminating infection.”

Levy’s team also discovered that these unintegrated viruses can survive in human cells for weeks, providing themselves a kind of cover against ARVs and other natural immune responses.

To read the NYU release, click here.

To read the journal abstract, click here.