Researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) have won funding from the US National Institute on Drug Abuse to study the effects of cannabis use on HIV latency, considered the main barrier to eradicating the virus that causes AIDS.

HIV latency is the phenomenon whereby the reservoir of HIV that is dormant within patients becomes activated and spreads when antiretroviral medications are ceased.

The Browne lab in the UNC HIV Cure Centre will conduct the US$4 million, five-year research project led by principal investigator Ed Browne, PhD.

Ed Browne, PhD

Increasing evidence suggests drugs such as cannabis affect the size and nature of the virus reservoir. Cannabis activates the CB2 receptors that are widely expressed on the surface of immune cells, including the CD4 T cells.

Brown said: “Our hypothesis is that cannabis exposure during HIV infection alters the size, location, and genetic characteristics of the latent HIV reservoir through the activation of CB2-dependent cell signalling in CD4 T cells.”

“Defining the impact of cannabis on the latent HIV reservoir will be important to designing appropriate approaches to clear the reservoir from people with HIV who use these drugs.”

The team will use cutting-edge methods from the fields of single cell multi-omic analysis to characterise the effect of cannabis on the latent HIV reservoir.

“We think this research will advance our understanding of how the latent reservoir is regulated, and it could reveal new tools for further characterising or clearing the reservoir from HIV-positive individuals,” Browne added.