Dr. Nicole Bernard
Associate Professor - Department of Medicine, Division of Experimental Medicine
My research focus is the study of the immune correlates of protection against HIV infection and slow disease progression in those already infected. We study individuals who remain uninfected despite multiple exposures to HIV. We hypothesize that Natural Killer (NK) cells play a role in protection from HIV infection. NK cells, as key players in innate immunity, can mediate antiviral functions early after exposure to HIV infected cells and possibly prevent the establishment of a progressive infection. NK anti-viral function is determined by a process called licensing that is dependent of the integration of signals from cell surface activating and inhibitory receptors that sense the presence of ligands on other cells. I am interested in the link between carriage of NK receptor –ligand pairs that are associated with HIV protection and the antiviral functional potential of NK cells from these individuals. We also study HIV infected individuals who exhibit different HIV disease courses. Some of these, called Elite Controllers, are able to spontaneously control HIV viral load long term without treatment. We hypothesize that anti-HIV envelope antibody dependent innate immune functions may play a role in this viral control. We are characterizing these immune responses in several HIV infected study populations and how these immune profiles may explain HIV control in Elite Controllers.
With the advent of effective treatments for HIV, infected individuals are living longer. It appears that aging HIV infected individuals may have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other co-morbidities associated with the higher levels of immune activation seen in treated HIV+ persons than in uninfected age matched controls. We are participating in study of HIV and aging by examining the effect that NK cells may have premature aging of HIV+ persons.
- The role of anti-HIV Envelope specific antibody dependent innate immune responses in HIV control.
- How do NK cell receptor/HLA ligand pairs determine responses to autologous HIV infected cells?
- Characterization of NK cell phenotypes and functions associated with cardiovascular disease in HIV+ individuals.