Understanding how HIV works inside the human cell gives scientists a very vital clue about how to attack it at its most vulnerable stage. Bearing in mind, the intricacies of how the virus works and reproduces itself which is a process called ‘life cycle’ may be a necessary tool in assisting the scientists, to design new drugs that are more potent at suppressing HIV and have very little side effects. Therefore, for individuals with HIV, having an idea of how HIV works can make it easier to understand the way the drugs work in the body system.

Ordinarily, viruses cannot replicate unless there is an assistance by a living cell. Although HIV can infect a member of the cells in the body, the main target is an immune cell called a lymphocyte, particularly a CD4 helper cell, as well as a type of T-cell. T-cells are an important part of the immune system because they assist in facilitating the body response to many common but potentially fatal infections.

It suffices to say that without adequate T-cells, the body’s immune system is unable to defend itself against so many infections. By virtue of ways that are not yet completely understood, HIV’s life cycle directly or indirectly causes a diminishing effect in the number of T-cells in the body, which would lead to an increased risk of infection. HIV may enter the body via the following mediums:

  • Unsafe sex
  • Contaminated needles
  • Blood transfusions
  • From mother to unborn child

HIV comes in contact with its favorite host cells, which is the T-cell, and when this takes place, it hijacks the host cell’s cellular system to reproduce thousands of itself. Notably, at every step of HIV’s life cycle, it is practically possible to design a drug that will stop the virus. As a result of these, designing drugs to interfere with particular steps in a viral life cycle is called rational drug design.

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The Stages of HIV Life Cycle

HIV life cycle simply points to how the HIV infection reproduces itself by utilizing the genetic makeup of the host cell. There are several stages, or steps, of HIV virus life cycle. The stages are as follows:

Binding stage of HIV life cycle

In the binding stage of HIV life cycle, the HIV infection attaches itself to the surface of CD4 cells by making use of its receptor called gp120 to attach to other receptors on the CD4 cells like CCR5 receptors as well as CXCR4. HIV only infects CD4 cells because these very cells express the receptors that assist the HIV virus to go into the cells. This is because HIV brings down the immune system of the human body because the CD4 cells maintain the immunity of the body.

The Fusion stage of HIV life cycle

After reasonably binding to the CD4 cell, the virus consequentially fuses its covering with the cell membrane of CD4 cell. This will pave way for the virus to gain entrance into the CD4 cell. Therefore, this HIV life cycling stage is blocked by fusion inhibitors which are equally drugs used for the purpose of treating HIV virus.

Reverse transcription stage of HIV life cycle

Interestingly, for this virus to reproduce it must change from RNA to DNA and for HIV to effect this change, it uses a protein called reverse transcriptase. Therefore, this enzyme then changes the HIV RNA to HIV DNA.  So once the HIV DNA is produced, it can, however, then go into the Nucleus of the CD4 cell now called the nucleus when the genetic materials are preserved.

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Replication stage of HIV life cycle

In the nucleus of the CD4 cell, the HIV DNA joins forces with the CD4 DNA so that anytime the CD4 cells want to produce, it makes use of the cell's protein to produce more long chain protein thereby multiplying the HIV protein copies.

Budding stage of HIV life cycle

After making progress to the surface of CD4 membrane, the HIV releases yet another enzyme called protease that assists to cleave the long chain of HIV proteins into a short chain of proteins.

Vaccination with respect to HIV life cycle

History has in its record that vaccination has always been one of the best methods to protect people from infectious diseases. Meanwhile, an array of techniques are made available for preventing HIV virus, given that the existence of a very safe and efficient HIV vaccine remains key to achieving a lasting end to the HIV pandemic.

The cure for HIV

Basically, HIV drugs cannot cure HIV, for now, but can assist one to stay healthy by preventing the virus from reproducing. It suffices to say that if HIV is not able to reproduce, it will not infect new cells in the body system and the immune system may be well preserved.

The prevention and treatment of HIV cannot be overemphasized since knowing that the target of HIV life cycle is to affect all parts of the body with an aim to making the body a factory where it reproduces. It is suggested that people with this virus can still live a healthy life as long as they take antiretroviral drugs and eat well; these will go a long way in helping them live a normal life, as best as possible.

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