Scientists have discovered SLAMF7 , an immune receptor, called 'monocytes.' The finding was made after studying both healthy and HIV-infected patients. Yet, for certain HIV patients who experience a myriad of health issues, the researchers found that these patients' receptors do not work properly.

For HIV patients, treatments that control the infection have come a long way. But many still struggle with a host of other disease-related disorders such as neurocognitive disorders, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and chronic inflammation. Why these patients occur is not exactly known, but many indicators point to an overactive immune system , something HIV patients are all too familiar with.

SLAMF7 makes the monocytes more HIV-resistant

They also discovered that SLAMF7 made the monocytes more resistant to HIV by increasing the level of a protein, called " CCL3L1 ," which is known to make it harder for the HIV virus to get inside cells. The federally funded study is published in the  Journal of Immunology.

"SLAMF7 can act like a seesaw and keep the balance of the immune system in check," said Patrick O'Connell. "When receptors need to turn on the immune system, when they get infected, they turn to the immune system."

"HIV patients are different"

Patients with malfunctioning receptors can not shut off their immune systems, which can put the body in a chronic pro-inflammatory state. This constant activation can negatively affect other organs and tissues.

"If you have too much activation, you see autoimmune disorders where the body attacks its own tissues and if there's not enough activation, you see cases where the body can not fight off infections," O'Connell said. "HIV patients are different because they can experience both, which can lead to all sorts of health issues and make treatment difficult."

O'Connell and the team tested the blood of study participants, isolated their white blood cells and stimulated them with interferon alpha, a protein that boosts the immune system's response to infections, sometimes to an unhealthy level. They then investigated how the SLAMF7 receptor responded, and found that it was unresponsive in certain HIV patients who struggled more with complications and often times had a worse prognosis.

Understanding the molecular mechanism of the SLAMF7 receptor and how it works could lead to new drug treatments that target immune activation. This could make SLAMF7 a functioning team player again in the immune system. Aldhamen and O'Connell are looking at it in their next phase of research.

"There's always a need to get drugs that can target different mechanisms related to a disease," O'Connell said. "Most HIV drugs target the virus itself. Our work is to potentially modify the immune system so we can fight the virus. Finding a drug that does this is our ultimate goal."