Interviewer: You talk about the HIV virus and AIDS as well. That's been in the forefront for better than 30 years now. What do we know about that virus now that maybe we didn't a few years ago?
Prof. Garth Nicolson: Well, I think one of the pictures that's emerging in HIV, it's not just the HIV, it's also the other infections that are co-infections with HIV. The HIV virus itself doesn't really cause life-threatening symptoms. What it does do, is it sets up an individual for life-threatening infections. One of these we've studied, which is mycoplasma, but there are a variety of other infections as well that come to play which actually do the damage in HIV/AIDS.
We've been working on some of those other infections, like mycoplasma infection, and how that plays a major role in HIV/AIDS. More than 80% of AIDS, probably 100%, have the mycoplasma, like mycoplasma fermentans, which is one of the more common mycoplasma infections in HIV/AIDS. This is what really causes the major symptoms which lead to life-threatening course of the disease.
Interviewer: What's a mycoplasma infection? Could you describe that?
Prof. Garth Nicolson: Mycoplasma is a very primitive bacteria. It does not have a cell wall around it, so it's a very pleomorphic bacteria. This type of bacteria gets inside cells, so it's intracellular; it penetrates into the central nervous system. Now you can see why it's a major problem. And once it's in there, it can interfere with the metabolism of nerve cells, for example. It can interfere with them and eventually it can kill them, by sending them into apoptosis; programmed cell death.
It also interferes with the mitochondria, because it stimulates an increase in oxidative molecules, free radicals that damage the mitochondrial membrane. It all ties back to what we were talking about in terms of mitochondrial damage. People who have HIV/AIDS have a lot of mitochondrial damage, and that's one of the reasons why they're so fatigued.