r-newsAIDS Research

Selling the Immune System Short

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Science  05 Jul 1996:
Vol. 273, Issue 5271, pp. 30
DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5271.30


Despite much recent progress in understanding the AIDS virus, researchers are still unclear about how it causes the immunodeficiency that is the hallmark of the disease. But recent studies of the telomeres—the specialized stretches of genetic material at the ends of the chromosomes—are providing a clue. At least in one type of immune cell, the telomeres have turned out to be much shorter in AIDS patients than in healthy age-matched controls. Because telomeres are thought to shorten every time a cell divides, this finding suggests that the virus is essentially wearing out the immune system as it struggles to overcome the infection.