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Researchers study the gut microbes and their role in HIV infected children

In a recent study, researchers from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, USA, St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, Bengaluru, and the King George's Medical University, Lucknow, have revealed how changes in the gut microbes are related to inflammation in the HIV-infected children. The study, funded by the Department of Science and Technology and Science and Engineering Research Board, was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The growth of the deadly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can now be contained, thanks to the advent of antiretroviral therapy (ART). This therapy successfully reduces the transmission of the virus from mother to child, called perinatal infection, by 70%. However, it does not help in controlling complications like inflammations, that is commonly seen among individuals with HIV infection. Perinatal HIV infection is complicated as it progresses faster than in the adults.

The researchers of the current study looked at how microbes in the gut of HIV-infected children play a role in the inflammation process. They studied the microbial diversity from faecal samples of HIV-infected children with and without the antiretroviral therapy and compared them with samples from uninfected children.

The researchers found that the microbial population in the infected and the uninfected children were distinct. “Examination of faecal microbiota revealed that perinatally infected children living with HIV had significantly higher levels of genus Prevotella, that persisted despite antiretroviral therapy”, report the authors. Prevotella is a genus of bacteria found in the oral cavity and the gut and has been linked with chronic inflammatory conditions. The researchers think that a higher abundance of Prevotella might promote the complications of HIV.

The researchers also found an increase in the levels of IP-10, a protein of the immune system. These high levels continue even after the antiretroviral therapy.

“The direct correlation between Prevotella and IP-10 suggests that IP-10 may be regulated by gut microbiota and could potentially contribute to ongoing inflammation”, suggest the authors.

The researchers observed reduced diversity of faecal microbes among HIV-infected kids, including those who were treated with the antiretroviral therapy and both treated and untreated children had a similar pattern of gut microbiota. They hypothesise that although the treatment successfully prevents the proliferation of the virus, it does not restore the microbial diversity.

The study throws some light on the potential role of gut microbes in persistent inflammation among HIV-infected children, in spite of the antiretroviral therapy. The researchers suggest the use of probiotics along with the present treatment to reshape the microbial composition in the gut.

“Future studies to understand the mechanism of Prevotella-driven inflammation may aid the development of therapeutic interventions that can reconstitute healthy gut microbiota and mitigate the level of inflammation in individuals living with HIV”, conclude the authors.