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HIV Gene Prevents Body’s Natural Response in Fighting the Virus

Update Date: Mar 29, 2013 10:22 AM EDT

With more and more research done on how to fight the generally incurable human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), scientists have gotten to understand the disease better than before, which will help with the quest to find a cure or at least, better treatment for this dangerous infection. Previous lab studies have found that the human's immune system has an innate response in fighting the virus effectively. Due to a particular viral gene, the immune system's response becomes deactivated, allowing the virus to thrive in the body. Researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine were able to show how a gene found in HIV deactivates the human's natural response in fighting the disease through a mouse model.

The senior author of the study, J. Victor Garcia, Ph.D. and colleagues created a humanized mouse model named BLT, introduced HIV to the mouse, and observed how the mouse's implanted human immune system functioned. The BLT was made by placing the human bone marrow, liver, and thymus tissues into animals that do not have an immune system. The researchers also introduced another mouse model with a different and strong strain of a virus. The researchers already knew that the human proteins, APOBEC3 could help stunt the growth of HIV and other kinds of viruses in the body. However, a specific gene, known as vif, in HIV stops these proteins from effectively killing the virus, and thus, the researchers aimed to deactivate this particular gene and observed the effects.

"Without the vif gene, HIV can be completely destroyed by the body's own immune system," Garcia, who is a professor of medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, stated. "These results suggest a new target for developing drugs fully capable of killing the virus."

In the study, the researchers looked at the role of vif when the mice were infected with HIV. The researchers found that when vif was deactivated, HIV did continue to replicate but at a slower rate than before. In addition, without vif, the virus seemed to replicate without harming the immune system, like the virus normally would. The researchers noticed that the virus also only grew in one part of the body, the thymus tissue.

 "These findings demonstrate a fundamental weakness in HIV. If this weakness can be exploited, it might eventually lead to a cure for HIV/AIDS," another author of the

study, John F. Krisko, said.

Although this study opens up numerous possibilities regarding this particular HIV gene and its effects on the body's immune system, it suggests that a possible cure can be made through manipulating the virus's gene. With more progress being made everyday, the future treatments for HIV/AIDS look optimistic. However, a lot of work and research still need to be done.

The study was published in PLoS Pathogens.

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