Researchers discover new way to block HIV transmission by removing cholesterol from cell membrane: Hopkins study finds HIV requires cholesterol to infect

Cholesterol is instrumental in HIV's ability to infiltrate cells, and removing this fatty material from a cell's membrane blocks infection, according to a Johns Hopkins study reported in the July 20th issue of AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses. The discovery may provide new opportunities to stop HIV transmission.

"With a vaccine not immediately on the horizon, microbicides that can remove cholesterol from cell membranes, rendering HIV non-infectious, may play an important part in controlling the AIDS pandemic," says James Hildreth, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and molecular science at Johns Hopkins and principal investigator of the study.

Researchers found that a starchy substance that drains cholesterol from a cell's membrane can completely block HIV transmission. Using microbicides that contain this cholesterol-depletor during sex should be able to reduce or stop HIV transmission, according to the study.

Researchers have long known that HIV steals many proteins from a cell membrane when it exits the cell. The theft of adhesion proteins, for example, allows the virus to bind to many cell types, increasing its infectious nature. Scientists wondered, however, why a particular protein called CD45 was plentiful in cell membranes but ignored in HIV's robbery efforts. Looking closely at the issue, Hildreth observed that lipid rafts, subregions of a cell's membrane enriched with certain lipids and cholesterol, do not contain this protein.

"We thought that because HIV leaves behind CD45, and because CD45 doesn't exist in the lipid rafts, then maybe HIV emerges from the lipid rafts when it exits a cell," says Hildreth. Studies showed that indeed this was true, and in the current report, researchers focused on solving the next question.

"We wondered why lipid rafts might be important for HIV biology, and our attention focused on cholesterol in the rafts because it's important in a number of biological func

Contact: Kate O'Rourke
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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