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Gut bacteria may have role in HIV infection susceptibility: Study

by Vaishali Sharma
gut bacteria

According to new UCLA-led research, certain gut bacteria, particularly one necessary for a healthy gut microbiome, differ between persons who get HIV infection and those who do not.

According to research lead Dr Jennifer Fulcher, assistant professor of medicine, division of infectious diseases, the findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal eBioMedicine, imply that the gut microbiota may impact one’s risk of HIV infection. “This is an important area that requires more research to better understand if and how these bacteria might effect HIV transmission,” said Fulcher, who also has a VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System appointment.

“Microbiome-based treatments are emerging as a promising field of study. With more investigation, this might be an innovative approach to HIV prevention.”

Fulcher believes that there is a relationship between persistent HIV and alterations in gut microorganisms. The researchers sought to know when these alterations start to happen following HIV infection.

To that purpose, scientists investigated gut microbiota samples taken from 27 men who have intercourse with males both before and after infection. The samples were then compared to those of 28 males who had comparable behavioural risk factors for infection but did not have HIV.

The samples were from the UCLA-led Collaborating Consortium of Cohorts Producing NIDA Opportunities (C3PNO), a resource and data centre for millions of pieces of research, lab samples, statistics, and other data targeted at speeding up research into the impact of drug usage on HIV/AIDS.

The researchers revealed that the gut flora of the infected males changed very little throughout the first year. However, they revealed that HIV-positive males had different gut microbes before being infected than their uninfected counterparts.

These males exhibited reduced levels of Bacteroides species, a kind of bacterium widespread in the lower intestine tract that has key metabolic roles in maintaining a healthy gut environment, and greater amounts of Megasphaera elsdenii, whose significance in the human gut is unknown. According to the researchers, males who acquired HIV had higher inflammatory cytokines and bioactive lipids prior to infection, both of which are associated with systemic inflammation, indicating that their systems were continually on the defence against infection or damage.

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The study’s drawbacks include a limited sample size and a focus on primarily young males who have sex with men, the majority of whom take drugs, limiting its generalizability to other populations.

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