Immunology, Transplantation and Infectious diseases

Neurovirology

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Clinical Group Leader

Paola Cinque

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The Unit performs translational research on HIV Infection of the Central Nervous System, Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (viral and host/immune determinants of disease) and other HIV-associated complications affecting the CNS.

Research activity

Neurovirology Unit has three main research projects:

  • The Central Nervous System (CNS) as a reservoir for HIV. The group is characterizing cases of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)-escape, both phenotypically (clinically, by neuroimaging), virologically (molecular analysis of CSF virus variants) and by immuneactivation and neuronal damage biomarkers. The relevance of such studies is in the perspective of HIV eradication, which is currently unfeasible due to virus persistence in cell reservoirs (lymphocytes, macrophages), which reside in certain tissues, such as lymphatic tissues and the CNS itself.
  • PML (Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy), a progressive demyelinating disease that affects immunocompromised people and persons receiving certain 'biological' drugs. The unit has previously contributed to dimostrate that PML is caused by variants of the JC virus (JCV), upon selection of mutations on its external capside protein, and are currently assessing the antibody- and cell-mediated immune responses to both wild-type and mutated JCV. In particular researchers are studying the hypothesis that viral escape from the immunological control may play a key role in the development and progression of PML. Such studies might lead to the identification of patients at risk to develop PML and to a better definition of the immune control mechanisms, which might be exploited to prevent or treat the disease. 
  • A more recent research area involves the role of physical activity to improve chronic immune activation in HIV-infected persons and thus help improve metabolic markers and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Group researchers are actively working with the design and application of training protocols supported by the use of smartphone applications and online social groups, to favor and improve adherence to the training programs towards results optimization.