Cocaine users may be more likely to get the HIV virus, according to a new study at UCLA’s David Geffen Medical School and published in the October issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
The research, conducted over a year on cells suspended in petri dishes, showed that exposure to cocaine altered how cells respond when attacked by the HIV virus. The drug caused the cells to drop their natural resistance and actually trigger receptors that cause the cells to welcome in the deadly virus.
“The surprising result was that the changes cocaine induced on these cells were very minimal, yet they were sufficient to fuel infection,” said Dimitrios Vatakis, the assistant professor who ran the experiment. “We found that cocaine mediates its effects directly, inducing minimal changes in the physiology of these cells and utilizing the same pathways it uses to target the brain.”
In other words, the same properties of cocaine that makes users feel euphoric also makes them more likely to become infected with the virus believed to be the cause of the deadly immune disorder, AIDS.
In the experiment, biologists too healthy human cells, known as quiescent CD4 T cells, from human donors. These cells normally have a high resistance to the HIV bug. They then exposed the cells to cocaine over a three day period.
When that was done, they exposed the cells to the HIV virus. Comparing the cocaine-exposed cells to their cocaine-free counterparts, the researchers found a higher rate of HIV infection in those cells that had been treated with cocaine.
The findings suggest, the researchers say, that cocaine my stimulate production of T-cells, a kind of cell that is easily infected by viruses, thus making users more vulnerable to HIV infection.
"The potential for cocaine to augment the pool of HIV target cells with a commensurate increase in the viral reservoir has significant implications for HIV seropositive individuals who abuse or use stimulants such as cocaine,” the researchers wrote.
SOURCES: Newswise, Science World Report