Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) researchers at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston believe they have uncovered the Achilles heel in the armor of the virus that continues to kill millions.
Scientists in UT Houston laboratory of Sudhir Paul, Ph.D., may have uncovered a chink the armor of the deadly HIV virus. Pictured from left to right are: Paul, Yasuhiro Nishiyama, Ph.D., and Stephanie Planque.
The weak spot is hidden in the HIV envelope protein gp120. This protein is essential for HIV attachment to host cells, which initiate infection and eventually lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS. Normally the body's immune defenses can ward off viruses by making proteins called antibodies that bind the virus. However, HIV is a constantly changing and mutating virus, and the antibodies produced after infection do not control disease progression to AIDS. For the same reason, no HIV preventative vaccine that stimulates production of protective antibodies is available.
The Achilles heel, a tiny stretch of amino acids numbered 421-433 on gp120, is now under study as a target for therapeutic intervention. Sudhir Paul, Ph.D., pathology professor in the UT Medical School, said, "Unlike the changeable regions of its envelope, HIV needs at least one region that must remain constant to attach to cells. If this region changes, HIV cannot infect cells. Equally important, HIV does not want this constant region to provoke the body's defense system. So, HIV uses the same constant cellular attachment site to silence B lymphocytes - the antibody producing cells. The result is that the body is fooled into making abundant antibodies to the changeable regions of HIV but not to its cellular attachment site. Immunologists call such regions superantigens. HIV's cleverness is unmatched. No other virus uses this trick to evade the body's defenses."