New target for HIV/AIDS drugs and vaccine discovered

Researchers from Rome, Italy, describe a finding in the August 2007 print issue of The FASEB Journal that could lead to new drugs to fight the HIV/AIDS virus, as well as new vaccines to prevent infection. It has been known that HIV proteins disable the antibody-forming part of the immune system (the homeland defense or acquired immune system). In this report, researchers demonstrate for the first time how the HIV-1 Nef viral protein delivers a one-two punch to the bodys innate immune system (our early warning system composed of dendritic and natural killer cells). First, Nef hijacks dendritic cells (DCs) to upset the function of natural killer (NK) cells. Second, after blocking this first line of defense against the immune system, Nef uses DCs and NK cells to create a microenvironment that actually makes it easier for HIV/AIDS to replicate.

According to Maria Giovanna Quaranta of Instituto Superiore de Sanit and first author of the article, The findings described in this work may have several implications for AIDS treatment: the understanding of Nef function, mechanism of action, and cellular partners might aid the discovery of suitable drugs able to block the activity of this smart protein. Quaranta added, An exciting possibility is the design of a vaccine including a mutated Nef protein unable to assist the virus in the control of its host.

The research findings also raise another intriguing possibility: Nef proteins may be able to boost or suppress DC and NK cell activity. If so, it may prove to be a valuable new therapeutic approach for people with diseases and disorders that involve overactive or underactive immune responses. DCs and NK cells play critical roles in the bodys initial defense against infection. DCs are instrumental in identifying foreign invaders to the body and then orchestrating an immune response that ultimately removes them. NK cells are among the first cells summoned by DCs to help isolate and contain the infection un

Contact: Cody Mooneyhan
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

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