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Sunday 23rd October 2016

Proteins may hold key to HIV

15th January 2008

New research in the United States has identified hundreds of human proteins used by the HIV virus to take hold inside the body, providing a vital signpost towards new drugs which may escape the problem of resistance.


The HIV virus is a relatively simple genetic entity, containing only nine genes that code for 15 proteins. Instead, it uses proteins already present in the host to survive and reproduce itself.

Many of the 273 human proteins identified by a team at the Harvard Medical School in Boston are contained in immune cells.

Researchers say new drug therapies which target these proteins instead of attacking the virus directly could mean that HIV is unable to mutate to resist the drugs, as it does currently.

The latest 'cocktail' therapies for HIV involve taking several antiretroviral drugs at the same time, to make it harder for the virus to mutate than it would be if only one drug were used.

However, multiple drug treatment programmes are hard for patients to stick to, and any failure to keep within strict parameters provides another opportunity for HIV to develop resistance.

Stephen Elledge, a senior author of the study, said the team had decided to take a different approach centered on the human proteins exploited by the virus, because the virus would not be able to mutate to overcome drugs that interact with these proteins.

Elledge and his team have greatly expanded previous knowledge of the proteins used by HIV in the human body.

They found a surprisingly diverse array of proteins were implicated in HIV infection, including trafficking proteins, and those involved in a sort of cellular self-destruct called autophage.

The newly expanded list will be useful to other researchers looking for inspiration for future hypotheses to generate further research in this field.

Elledge said scientists would be able to look at the list, predict why HIV needs a particular protein, and then test their hypothesis. He hopes that new types of HIV treatments will eventually result.

The team used a lengthy process of elimination across the entire human genome, releasing HIV into groups of cells where only one protein was missing at a time.

They were then able to see which proteins were crucial to HIV's replication.

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