The main research focus of the McRae lab is to understand the interplay between HIV and drugs of abuse on HIV therapy within the brain. The treatment of HIV has markedly improved, such that in the United States, HIV is no longer an acute, rapidly progressing disease, but is a chronic disease that persists for multiple decades. However, despite the use of aggressive antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and low or undetectable virus within the blood, HIV infection is still associated with cognitive and neurobehavioral impairment, which is collectively termed neuroHIV. As many know, the U.S. is also experiencing an opioid crisis, with the loss of jobs, family, and increasing death rates. Furthermore, the interplay of opioids has many negative biological effects and can worsen symptoms of neuroHIV. There are many mechanisms by which this occurs. However, the McRae lab is interested in learning more about how opioids may alter the effectiveness of HIV drugs within the brain, which may contribute to the negative cognitive effects of neuroHIV.
In our lab, we use a variety of experimental techniques and procedures, but in broad strokes, the McRae uses both in vitro (cell culture) and in vivo techniques to examine the impact of the opioid-HIV interplay within the brain. Better understanding of this dynamic interplay, with specific focus on antiretroviral brain concentrations, will improve the current therapeutic approaches for the HIV patients who use opioids.