Fetal AIDS Mimicked in Brain-Cell Culture

By Wickelgren, Ingrid | Science News, April 1, 1989 | Go to article overview

Fetal AIDS Mimicked in Brain-Cell Culture


Wickelgren, Ingrid, Science News


Fetal AIDS mimicked in brain-cell culture

Scientists have created the first successful tissue-culture model of the nervous system damage incurred by fetuses from mothers infected with the AIDS virus, or HIV. Knowledge gained from the novel system, which includes all types of fetal brain cells and permits their interaction, may eventually help researchers develop ways to treat or prevent the infection in utero, says study leader William D. Lyman, a neuropathologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

Fetal nervous tissue in culture develops in a way that mimics normal human development, and once infected with HIV, it shows a pathology similar to that seen in fetuses infected in the mother's womb, Lyman reported at last week's meeting in New Orleans of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Lyman cultured brain tissue from 13- to 21-week-old fetuses aborted by uninfected women, and compared what he saw to his previous observations of nervous tissue from fetuses aborted by HIV-infected women. The latter work was presented last June at the International Conference on AIDS in Stockholm. HIV genetic material was found in those tissues.

Although other scientists have developed cell-culture systems to study HIV infection of the nervous system, none has used organized human brain tissue of more than one cell type to represent normal nervous system development. And no previous research could reproduce signs of severe AIDS infection in tissue culture, says neurologist Richard W. Price at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Scientists have found HIV in white blood cells in the brain and have suspected that brain cells can be infected, but Price says previous studies have not convincingly revealed whether HIV directly targets the major cell types in the brain -- neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. Lyman's studies indicate that in the fetal brain HIV may directly infect and injure brain cells. He reports that infected tissue cultures showed cell death and disruption of the normal nervous tissue arrangement similar to what occurs in utero and reminiscent of some aspects of the neuropathology seen in cases of pediatric AIDS. …

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