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Antiretroviral drugs could help memory

Picture of Tina Gutierrez
Tina Gutierrez

A research team has discovered an unexpected new use for one of the drugs designed to control HIV, known as antiretroviral.

It is the drug called maraviroc, which seems to have the ability to restore a type of memory that allows us to link an event, for example, a wedding, with the people we saw there, explained the news portal of the National Public Radio of the United States (NPR).

Although the experiment was carried out on mice, it was observed that the drug acts on a brain system that is also found in humans, and that it has an important role in various types of conditions related to the nervous system.

Relational memory

Relational memory is the ability to relate memories that occur around a certain moment (as in the example of the wedding), and it is a type of memory that generally deteriorates with age. It is also the memory that can be severely affected in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

However, many people can have problems with relational memory, even if they don’t have a serious illness that affects their memories. For example, when someone knows something but can’t remember where they heard it or who told them.

“These types of incidents happen more and more frequently as we mature or age,” Alcino Silva, one of the researchers on the study, recently published in the scientific journal Nature, told NPR.

And although this type of memory had already been identified for a long time, the way it works was unknown, Silva acknowledged. But this changed when they looked at the CCR5 receptor.

The action of the drug

Throughout the more than 25-year history of antiretroviral drugs, different classes of antiretroviral drugs have been created, which are distinguished by acting at different points in the process of HIV replication in the body.

Maraviroc is one of the newer antiretroviral, and is in a class called fusion inhibitors. This medicine works by blocking certain receptors, called CCR5, on the surface of the immune cell, thus preventing HIV from using them as a “gateway” into the cell.

Dr. Silva’s team, which is based at the University of California, Los Angeles, had previously shown that CCR5 receptors downgrade the recall mechanism. That is, the more CCR5 there are, the less the ability to link memories.

The scientists used maraviroc to inhibit the presence of CCR5 receptors, as is their function. In the laboratory experiment, they observed that those older mice that received the drug regained the ability to link their memories again.

HIV and memory

Beyond that it can be used to treat diseases that have to do with memory impairment, this discovery opens up a great opportunity to combat memory loss caused by HIV infection.

Living with the virus can cause significant cognitive problems, meaning disturbances in thinking, learning, memory, judgment, and decision-making.

These types of conditions are relatively common in people with HIV, and according to some studies, they have to do with the amount of virus circulating in the blood (for example, when the infection is not controlled) or with the amount of virus that affected brain cells early in the infection.

For this reason, among many other health benefits, it is important for people to be tested for HIV and, if they test positive, to start antiretroviral treatment as soon as possible.

Remember that at AHF Latin America and the Caribbean we offer you free HIV tests and free condoms. Just come to our offices in your country or write to us on Whatsapp.