A new study, published in Science, used amazing molecular techniques to film HIV spreading from one cell to another.
See for yourself:
The breakthrough footage was obtained by creating a molecular clone of HIV which included fluorescent genetic code that glows green under blue light. In the video, you can see the infected T-cell interact and infect a healthy one by creating what is called a virological synapse - which is a fancy word for a tunnel of sorts between the two cells.
Before the video, scientists didn't know that the virus particles moved primarily through that kind of cell to cell connection. The synapses had been discovered in 2004, but it was still believed the primary means of transmission was through freely circulating viruses. Thus current searches for cures focus on attacking when HIV is outside of cells - which, in light of this footage, is doomed to be fail to stop the spread of the infection. It explains why our vaccine attempts, which target the viruses themselves, haven't succeeded, as the virus stays protected while spreading by its host cells. The diverse team from UC Davis and Mount Sinai School of Medicine hope that the new knowledge could open up novel treatments for the virulent disease. The new vaccines could target the synapses themselves, or proteins required to form them. This discovery could prove key to finally getting ahead of a pathogen which has killed over 25 million people worldwide and currently infects somewhere around 35 million people.
Hubner, W., McNerney, G., Chen, P., Dale, B., Gordon, R., Chuang, F., Li, X., Asmuth, D., Huser, T., & Chen, B. (2009). Quantitative 3D Video Microscopy of HIV Transfer Across T Cell Virological Synapses Science, 323 (5922), 1743-1747 DOI: 10.1126/science.1167525