What is a Latent HIV Reservoir?
- A latent HIV reservoir is a group of immune system cells in the body that are infected with HIV but are not actively producing new HIV.
Finding ways to target and destroy latent reservoirs is a major challenge facing HIV researchers who are exploring different strategies for clearing out reservoirs.
HIV attacks immune system cells in the body and uses the cells’ own machinery to make copies of itself. However, some HIV-infected immune cells go into a resting or latent state. While in this resting state, the infected cells do not produce new virus. HIV can hide inside these cells for years, forming a latent HIV reservoir but, at any time, cells in the latent reservoir can become active again and start making more virus.
To find out more about how HIV attacks cells, read the HIV Life Cycle fact sheet from HIVinfo.
HIV medicines prevent HIV from multiplying, which reduces the amount of the virus in the body (called the viral load). Because the HIV-infected cells in a latent reservoir are not producing new copies of the virus, HIV medicines have no effect on them.
People with HIV must take a daily combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) to keep their viral loads low. If a person stops taking their HIV medicines, the infected cells of the latent reservoir can begin making HIV again and the person's viral load will increase. That is why it is important to continue taking HIV medicines every day as prescribed, even when viral load levels are low.
Finding ways to target and destroy latent reservoirs is a major challenge facing HIV researchers. Researchers are exploring different strategies for clearing out reservoirs, including:
- Using gene therapy (manipulating genes to treat or prevent disease) to cut out certain HIV genes and inactivate the virus in HIV-infected immune cells.
- Developing drugs or other methods to reactivate latent HIV so that the HIV can be destroyed by the immune system or new HIV therapies. This means of eliminating latent HIV reservoirs is sometimes known as the “shock and kill” or “kick and kill” strategy.