Researchers find protein to stall HIV

The “search and destroy” protein might not completely eliminate HIV.

Hayley Odom

The human body contains a “search and destroy” protein that can directly mutate the human immunodeficiency virus, University researchers discovered last week.

The protein might contribute to HIV resistance in some people and might be capable of stalling the effects of the virus, researchers said.

“We’re understanding more of the basic biology of the process,” said Mark Liddament, a molecular biology and biophysics department doctoral assistant who worked on the research.

“This type of discovery contributes to our overall knowledge and could lead to therapies,” he said.

The protein most likely will not eliminate HIV completely, he said, but it might prevent HIV patients from dying of the disease.

“It could change the course of an (HIV) infection or have a substantial impact on the result of an infection,” he said.

Liddament said the protein – which is one of 11 proteins with similar capabilities – affects the critical step in HIV’s life cycle, when the virus must insert its DNA into the human cell’s genetic material.

“We don’t know all the details because this is just emerging, but these are theories at the moment, and we have some solid facts but we don’t have the full story yet,” he said.

Researchers said they believe the protein functions to protect humans from viral infections, said William Brown, research assistant and biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics department doctoral assistant.

“We believe we found evidence that it acts on HIV and we think this could be a way some people have natural resistance to HIV,” he said.

Researchers said they believe all humans have the protein, and said they believe it might behave differently in different people.

“It might be why some people with HIV are susceptible and some are resistant,” Brown said.

But researchers also said HIV has developed a counter-defense protein to the human proteins discovered in the research.

“The reason HIV is able to infect our cells is that it has this protein. If it didn’t have (this protein) it would be unable to affect us and spread into the population,” Liddament said.

The human protein only mutates HIV in the absence of the HIV protein, he said.

More research regarding the impact of the counter-resistance protein and its reaction with the human protein must be done in order to determine the effectiveness of the human protein.

Brown said the research is basic and the results do not yet have practical applications.

“This is another piece in the puzzle,” he said. Five or 10 years ago, researchers discovered that some people were resistant because HIV couldn’t get into their cells.

“This is a second piece that states, for some people, once HIV gets in we have another defense mechanism.”

Kathleen Conklin, associate professor in genetic cell biology and development, said the results of the study could severely limit infection by HIV.

She said the results could eventually lead to a variety of treatments for HIV.