Hate to put a damper on your Saturday (Tuesday) night plans, kids, but mom just got word that blowing coke can make your more vulnerable to HIV. At least, that’s what a new UCLA study — published in the latest issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology—suggests.
The study found that cocaine has a two-pronged effect on HIV transmission. First, it renders immune cells vulnerable to HIV infection. These cells, called quiescent CD4 T cells, are HIV resistant under normal circumstances. Second, cocaine actually increases the viral reservoir — or the number of T cells susceptible to HIV infection — in a person’s body.
The in vitro study was conducted on cells harvested from healthy donors. It found “that a three-day exposure to cocaine enhanced infection.” Dimitrios Vatakis, the study’s senior author, explained, “The surprising result was that the changes cocaine induced on these cells were very minimal, yet they were sufficient to fuel infection. We found that cocaine mediates its effects directly, inducing minimal changes in the physiology of these cells and utilizing the same pathways it uses to target the brain.”
The authors noted the results are not conclusive, citing the pitfalls of in vitro testing. At the same time, they cautioned, “The potential for cocaine to augment the pool of HIV target cells with a commensurate increase in the viral reservoir has significant implications for HIV seropositive individuals who abuse or use stimulants such as cocaine.”
Moving forward, the researchers will begin testing on mice to get a better sense of how stimulant abuse might impact a human’s susceptibility to HIV infection. Meanwhile, if and when those researchers find their mice missing, they might want to check on the floor of 54 under Liza’s Halston capelet.