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Cocaine May Increase Person's Susceptibility to HIV Infection

Oct 01, 2013 01:27 PM EDT

Cocaine use may increase a person's vulnerability to HIV infection, a new study shows.

Published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, the report reveals the ability of cocaine to render immune cells, called "quiescent CD4 T cells," more susceptible to the virus in addition to increasing the pathogen's ability to proliferate.

"The co-epidemics of [illicit] drug use and infectious disease are well documented, though typically this connection is thought to occur through lifestyle choices and increased exposure," John Wherry, deputy editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, said in a statement.

"What often does not come to mind is that drugs such as cocaine may be helping to fuel infections in this high-risk population by altering the immune system," he explained. "These new studies are an important advance documenting how cocaine use may increase a person's vulnerability to HIV and further highlighting the need for improved education for both HIV prevention and drug abstinence."

The researchers collected blood from healthy donors, isolated the quiescent CD4 T cells, exposed them to cocaine and then infected with them with HIV. By monitoring the progression of HIV's life cycle in the treated versus nontreated cells, the researchers discovered the former underwent "significant" infection and production of new viruses.

"We ultimately hope that our studies will provide a better understanding of how drugs of abuse impact how our body defends itself against disease," said Dimitrios N. Vatakis, the study's senior author and a scientist with University of California, Los Angeles' Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology-Oncology and the UCLA AIDS Institute.

"Such discovery can significantly improve the quality of life of drug users."

According to a recent United Nations report, new infections with HIV fell by one third globally between 2001 and 2012, with 2.3 million infected worldwide in 2012 compared to 3.4 million 2001.

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