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Exploring the Latest Breakthroughs in HIV Research

JUL 19, 2016 | SARAH ANWAR

HIV Drug Prohibits Infected Cells from Maturing 

Researchers from the Molecular Medicine Partnership Unit, a collaboration between the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and Heidelberg University Hospital, are currently testing an inhibitor drug that can lock HIV-infected cells in immaturity by disallowing the virus from cutting the connection between the capsid protein and the spacer peptide 1. With this, the virus cannot spread to uninfected cells.
 
Earlier forms of the drug did not affect viruses that had certain mutations that enabled it to destabilize the immature structure. This permitted the virus to rearrange itself, exposing the virus’s cutting machinery.
 
Using cryo-electron tomography with subtomogram averaging, the researchers were able to view 3-D images of immature HIV cells. Doing so allowed them to identify all instances of the virus’ cutting point. This approach has enabled the group to study the details of the virus without having to purify it in the lab.
 
The researchers found that the virus’s cutting machinery are hidden. This discovery is important considering that the virus has to cut the connections between its building blocks and rearrange the pieces before it can mature and spread throughout the body. Florian Schur, predoctoral fellow at EMBL, explained that the inhibitor drug locks the viral structure in its immature form so that it cannot be cut.
 
HIV remains one of the most threatening viruses circulating the globe. However, the unconventional approach that recent researchers have taken to targeting the virus may be the key to eradicating it once and for all.
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