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Scientists discover key molecule in transmission of AIDS virus

Scientists have discovered a key molecule that the AIDS virus uses to hijack a special type of cell in the body's outermost tissues, providing vital information into how the virus is first transmitted in the body. The molecule transports the virus to immune system tissues, and actually facilitates infection.

The findings, by scientists at New York University School of Medicine and University Hospital Nijemgen in the Netherlands, provide a new explanation as to how the virus gets into the body and makes its way to tissues where immune system cells reside. The AIDS virus then infects immune cells and eventually overwhelms the body's ability to fight infection.

This research shines a spotlight on the first encounter between HIV and cells in the body. It offers fresh avenues of research for developing innovative treatments for AIDS, and may lead to vaccines that could prevent the virus from gaining access to the body's immune cells. It is far too early, however, to determine whether the current finding will lead to new treatments.

In a study published in the March 3 issue of the journal Cell, researchers report that when HIV is deposited in the mucosal tissue lining the rectum and vagina, the first sites exposed to sexually transmitted infection, it binds specifically to a specialized type of cell, called a dendritic cell, by way of a molecule on the surface of this cell. The virus, which is now bound to this molecule, is then ferried to areas of the body rich in T-lymphocytes, the cells that are ultimately infected by the bound HIV. The molecule has been named DC-SIGN.

The research teams were led by Dan R. Littman, M.D., Ph.D., Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Professor of Molecular Immunology and Professor of Pathology at NYU School of Medicine, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and by Dr. Yvette van Kooyk at University Hospital Nijmegen in the Netherlands.

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Contact: Lynn Odell
Lynn.Odell@med.nyu.edu
212-263-5800
New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine
1-Mar-2000


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