By Bob Roehr
Meth, crystal, Tina — regardless of the name, folks have long known that use of the street drug creates a kind of euphoria that can lead to increased risky behavior and contribute to the spread of HIV infection.
Now, researchers have shown that meth not only increases the chance of infection; it can also speed up the pace of the disease. It is at the level of the virus interacting with the cells of your body.
Madhavan P.N. Nair, a cellular biologist at the University at Buffalo, looked at dendritic cells, the part of the immune system that HIV and other pathogens, first latches onto when entering the body.
He found that when meth attaches itself to dopamine receptors on cells, that somehow causes more of the molecule DC-SIGN to express itself on the surface of cells. DC-SIGN is the receptor molecule on the surface of dendritic cells that HIV grabs onto near the surface of skin or mucosal tissue.
This complex of cells and virus then travels deeper into the immune system, where T-cells try to kill the pathogen. The body’s T-cells can kill some HIV, but they are overwhelmed by the increased number of virus cells that are attached to the meth-activated dendritic cells.
The study was published online on Aug. 4 in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.