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Cocaine Increases HIV Vulnerability by Altering Immune Cells

Update Date: Sep 30, 2013 07:22 PM EDT

Cocaine may increase a person's vulnerability to HIV infection by altering the body's immune cells.

New research reveals that cocaine use changes "quiescent CD4 T" immune cells by making them more susceptible to HIV.

"We ultimately hope that our studies will provide a better understanding of how drugs of abuse impact how our body defends itself against disease," senior author Dimitrios N. Vatakis, Ph.D., of University of California, Los Angeles, said in a news release. "Such discovery can significantly improve the quality of life of drug users."

Researchers collected blood from healthy human donors and isolated quiescent CD4 T cells, and exposed them to cocaine and subsequently infected them with HIV.

After infections, researcher looked at the progression of HIV's life cycle and compared this progression against that of untreated cells.

The study revealed that cocaine rendered this subset of CD4 T cells susceptible to HIV, which resulted in significant infection and new virus production.

"The co-epidemics of elicit drug use and infectious disease are well documented, though typically this connection is thought to occur through lifestyle choices and increased exposure," John Wherry, Ph.D., Deputy Editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, said in a statement.

"What often does not come to mind is that drugs such as cocaine may be helping to fuel infections in this high-risk population by altering the immune system. These new studies are an important advance documenting how cocaine use may increase a person's vulnerability to HIV and further highlighting the need for improved education for both HIV prevention and drug abstinence," Wherry added.

The findings are published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology

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