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Anti-HIV protein found in monkeys

by Loren Moreno, Student Life editor

It has been known for years that monkeys are not affected by the human version HIV. A new study has finally revealed the reason—a protein in monkey genes prevent HIV from replicating in their cells, in turn blocking the virus from infecting monkey DNA.


The protein, TRIM5-alpha, has been shown to intervene in the early stages of HIV in monkeys, but similar proteins in humans do not have the same effect. The study by scientist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute first appeared in the Feb. 26 issue of Nature.

The research team, lead by Dr. Joseph Sodroski, professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, found that when HIV enters the cell, the protein prevents it from being written into DNA. They identified this step of the process to be crucial for the virus to replicate in the body. Without this step, the virus is not successful at infecting monkeys.

Whether the protein will have any medicinal or clinical use for humans remains to be known. National Institute of Health official, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “Identification of this HIV-blocking factor opens new avenues for intervening in the early stage of HIV infection, before the virus can gain a toehold.”

Researchers now plan to identify why the human version of TRIM5-alpha is so ineffective at stopping HIV. “Finding that humans have a TRIM5-alpha gene gives us a foundation for thinking of ways to make it more potent, perhaps stimulate our own defenses to HIV,” Sodroski said.

Sodorski also says it may be possible use of the protein in gene therapy. By introducing TRIM5-alpha into people infected by HIV, Sodorski believes that it may bear cells immune to HIV. There would be no problem with introducing foreign proteins into humans, Sodroski claimed, since the human and monkey versions are nearly identical—the only difference being their effectiveness.

“ We are far from applications, but we are beginning to appreciate the potential of these kinds of genes,” Sodroski said. “This discovery will lay the foundation for a lot of creative thinking to find ways to manipulating this protein for prevention and treatment.”

Source: National Institute of Health,
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute,www.dfci.harvard.ed




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