Marijuana-like chemicals trigger receptors on immune cells that can inhibit a type of HIV found in late-stage AIDS, say Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers in the journal PLoS ONE.
While marijuana is prescribed to treat pain and weight loss in advanced AIDS, this is the first study to reveal how the marijuana receptors on immune cells can influence the spread of the virus. "We knew that cannabinoid drugs like marijuana can have a therapeutic effect in AIDS patients, but did not understand how they influence the spread of the virus itself," said study author Cristina Costantino. "We wanted to explore cannabinoid receptors as a target for pharmaceutical interventions that treat the symptoms of late-stage AIDS and prevent further progression of the disease."
Costantino decided to examine the role of two cannabinoid receptors - CB1 and CB2. Triggering CB1 causes the drug high associated with marijuana, so the research team decided to explore therapies that would target CB2 only. Infecting healthy immune cells with HIV and then treating them with a chemical that triggers CB2 (called an agonist), the team found that the drug reduced the infection of the remaining cells.
"Developing a drug that triggers only CB2 as an adjunctive treatment to standard antiviral medication may help alleviate the symptoms of late-stage AIDS and prevent the virus from spreading," concluded Costantino. As a result of this discovery, another research team at Mount Sinai School of Medicine plans to develop a mouse model of late-stage AIDS in order to test the efficacy of a drug that triggers CB2 in vivo.
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Source: The Mount Sinai Hospital/Mount Sinai School of Medicine