Researchers have found that a tiny molecule can act like a “can opener” to force the “sealed tin” of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to open up and to expose its vulnerable parts, allowing the body’s immune system cells to then kill the infected cells.
The findings open a new path in the fight against HIV and could ultimately lead to the design of a vaccine to prevent transmission of the virus, the study noted.
“We found that people infected with the HIV-1 virus have naturally occurring antibodies that have the potential to kill the infected cells,” said study lead author Andres Finzi, professor at University of Montreal in Canada.
“We just have to give them a little push by adding a tiny molecule that acts as a can opener to force the viral envelope to expose regions recognized by the antibodies, which forms a bridge with some cells of the immune system, initiating the attack,” Finzi noted.
The researchers found that the tiny molecule to the cell surfaces of infected patients — called JP-III-48 — which imitates a protein called CD4, can beat the proteins that act as bodyguards of HIV.
CD4 proteins are located at the surface of T lymphocytes and allow immune system cells to be infected by HIV.
“The virus has to get rid of the CD4 proteins to protect itself. Adding the small molecule forces the viral envelop to open, like a flower,a Jonathan Richard from University of Montreal explained..
“The antibodies that are naturally present after the infection can then target the infected cells so they are killed by the immune system,” Richard said.
The JP-III-48 molecule was developed by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania; however, this is the first time it has been successfully tested on patients infected with HIV.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences