Today Scienceline features an article about a recently discovered cell in the immune system called T helper cell 17 (Th17). It appears to play a key role in autoimmune disorders, including psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. But that’s not the only area of medicine that could be impacted by the discovery of these new cells.
Th17 cells have also caught the attention of HIV researchers.
A team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has identified Th17 cells as one of the first major victims of an HIV infection. Within weeks of entering the body, the virus knocks out most of the T cells in the gut, particularly Th17 cells, according to immunologist Dr. Daniel Douek, the leader of the team.
Without sufficient immunity in the gut, microbes usually confined to the intestines spill out into the bloodstream, creating what Douek calls a “leaky gut.” This forces the overtaxed immune system, still under attack by the virus, to fight additional pathogens.
Douek and his team are trying to figure out why the virus appears to preferentially destroy Th17 cells, setting off the string of events that further depletes the immune system. Douek says more research is necessary and wants to look into how to replenish the supply of Th17 cells to shore up the gut in HIV patients.
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