Path to a Cure? A protein in humans and other primates switches on immune system, stops HIV infection

TRIM5alpha protein HIV treatment

An new HIV cure path may now be possible. A new study published in the journal Heliyon, has provided amazing insights into finding a cure for HIV. Scientists have uncovered part of a protein, found in humans as well as other primates that can turn on the immune system and fight off HIV at the same time. The findings are big enough to be used in developing anti-HIV gene therapy, researchers suggest. The TRIM5alpha protein has the power to intercept HIV and HIV-related viruses, stop their spread, and prevent more cells from getting infected. The protein switches on the immune system allowing an HIV-infected person to fight off HIV infection.

Quite recently, a medical breakthrough in Spain provided hope for actor Charlie Sheen who has contracted the deadly HIV. The closest medication available, until the discovery that blood transplants from umbilical cords could cure the virus, was a pill, Truvada, which prevents people from acquiring the virus.

According to the researchers, the protein TRIM5alpha switches on the immune system by attaching itself to another protein known as SUMO. However, two of the structures in the TRIM5alpha protein that have the capacity to attach themselves to SUMO are hidden, making it impossible for them to attach.

The researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the United States, University of Colorado Boulder and Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières in Canada may have solved this problem. They have identified a completely new part of the protein TRIM5alpha, which they have named SIM4 (derived from SUMO interacting motif 4) that can attach and activate an immune response, reports EurekAlert.

“HIV-1 inhibition by restriction factors is fascinating as a natural antiviral system. Our new findings contribute to mapping how our immune systems are activated against retroviruses like HIV,” said Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières professor, Dr. Berthoux. He is also the corresponding author of the study.

Scientists now have to find a way to activate SIM4, vital for arming TRIM5alpha against HIV. The protein can be used in gene therapy for HIV infection treatment.

“Our cells can mount a surprisingly complex response to viral infections. Finding a way to tweak the activity of these antiviral factors so that they target HIV, or other viruses of interest, is a valuable avenue of research,” added Dr. Berthoux.

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This article appeared in International Business Times on January 16, 2016 and can be found here.