HIV spreads through the human body by replicating itself inside of white blood T cells. But the sooty mangabey monkeys of west central Africa have a special type of T cell that can survive an HIV-type infection. Are these super monkeys the key to saving humanity from the global pandemic?
Sooty mangabey monkeys have what scientists call “a central memory T cell”, a type of T-cell that is not as hospitable to Simian immunodeficiency virus SIV—also known as monkey HIV or “HIV gone bananas”.
You see, the average human T cell facilitates HIV infection by opening up several molecular channels—or “receptor sites”—that allow HIV to infiltrate the cells more easily. But these monkeys’ “central memory T cells” are much less slutty and don’t open up quite as easily (at least not before dinner and a movie).
Furthermore, central memory T cells also hang out in the lymph nodes, stopping SIV from going into the lymphatic system and turning into full-blown monkey AIDS.
Researchers plan on studying the mangabeys’ central memory T cells to see if they can learn how to turn off the receptors in human T cells. If they can do that, then they can help humans stave off a high viral load, help keep T cell counts high, and assist in avoiding AIDS altogether—something that would help make happy monkeys of all HIV+ people.