A study carried out by a research team at Yale University and mainly funded by the National Institutes of Health has identified a cell in the spinal fluid of patients with HIV. This newly discovered cell is similar to a type of cell that was previously believed to only occur in the brain. For more detailed information, you can view the source press release at Yale News by clicking here. Alternatively, the researchers’ study can be found here, in the Journal of Clinical Investigation – Insight.
A research team at Yale University analysed the spinal fluid of three people diagnosed with virologically suppressed HIV, and people considered healthy. Using a single-cell RNA sequencing technique, the researchers were able to identify a type of cell in the spinal fluid that appeared to be similar to a microglia cell. Microglia were not previously thought to be part of the spinal fluid. Furthermore, spinal fluid levels of microglia were found to be much higher in the patients with HIV compared to the healthy control group.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that can damage the immune system and makes people more susceptible to infections and other diseases. According to the article at the Yale News, in the long term, HIV may lead to cognitive impairment, and one possible cause of this is changes to the microglia (the cells found by the researchers in the spinal fluid).
Microglia are small oval cells involved in the immune system. The cells help to clear out debris and dead neurones and may be triggered by inflammation in the central nervous system.
The Implications of the Findings
According to the Yale News report, there is hope that the microglia-like cells found in the spinal fluid could potentially function as a marker for people who are at risk for cognitive impairment. The authors also speculated that the microglia-like cells may be useful as a treatment target for several cognitive disorders.