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UCI scientists successfully target key HIV protein; breakthrough may lead to new drug therapies

Irvine, Calif., Sept. 23, 2004 -- In what may be a first step toward expanding the arsenal against HIV, UC Irvine researchers have successfully targeted an HIV protein that has eluded existing therapies.

Researchers targeted Nef, a protein responsible for accelerating the development of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Nef was targeted with small molecules synthesized by the researchers molecules that disrupted Nef's interaction with other proteins.

The technique used for identifying the synthetic molecules also may lead to new drug therapies with improved treatment options.

The researchers used a scientific technique called "phage display," which is used to identify small molecule inhibitors that can disrupt interactions between proteins. According to Gregory Weiss, lead researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, his research team attached the Nef protein to the surface of a harmless virus, then created synthetic molecules that could target and dislodge the protein.

This is the first time phage display has been used to identify molecules that disrupt protein-protein interactions. (For more detail, see "About the Research.")

While the method was successful, Weiss said the molecules identified proved toxic to cells. He is now seeking to develop less toxic compounds that will have high potencies against Nef without causing collateral damage. A key benefit of this achievement, he added, would be the development of therapies using smaller molecules, which can often be used in oral medications. Therapies that rely on larger molecules are used in medications injected by needle.

"By proving small molecules can be effective for targeting Nef, we've shown how researchers can expand the fight against AIDS," said Weiss.

The researchers reported their findings last week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The print version of the research pap
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Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
iqbal@uci.edu
949-824-3969
University of California - Irvine
24-Sep-2004


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