Drug increases risk of infection, speeds up pace of disease
Health officials have long known that use of crystal methamphetamine creates a kind of euphoria that can lead to increased risky behavior and contribute to the spread of HIV infection.
Now, researchers have shown a second way that meth increases the risk of infection and can speed up the pace of the disease. It is at the level of the virus interacting with the cells of your body.
Madhavan P.N. Nair, a cellular biologist at the University at Buffalo, looked at dendritic cells, part of the immune system that HIV, and other pathogens, first latched onto when entering the body.
He found that when meth attaches itself to dopamine receptors on cells, that somehow causes more of the molecule DC-SIGN to express itself on the surface of cells. DC-SIGN is the receptor molecule on the surface of dendritic cells that HIV grabs on to near the surface of skin or mucosal tissue. This complex of cells and viruses then travels deeper into the immune system so that T-cells can kill the pathogen. T-cells can kill some HIV but they are overwhelmed by the increased number of viruses that are attached to the meth-activated dendritic cells.
Dr. Nair says, “Use of dopamine receptor blockers during HIV infection in meth users could be beneficial therapeutically to reduce HIV infection in these high risk populations.”
However, the practical problem is that meth’s action on the dopamine receptor also is responsible for all of the pleasurable effects that users seek from the drug. So they are not likely to use anything that negates that purpose.
The study was published online on August 4 in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 11, 2006.