May 21, 2003
Experiments with an HIV protein -- viral protein R (Vpr) -- revealed that altering or deleting the protein greatly decreased the number of immune cells destroyed by HIV, the process that enables HIV to progress to AIDS. Treatments that block Vpr may help infected people to stay healthy, said study author Dr. Andrew Badley of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "Since mutations in Vpr can alter the outcome of HIV disease, it is possible, if not likely, that we can develop inhibitors of Vpr that may also modify disease outcome," Badley said.
In the small number of HIV patients known as nonprogressors, levels of the virus remain low, even without treatment, and AIDS does not develop. Badley and colleagues examined the makeup of HIV extracted from the blood of people with HIV, some of whom were nonprogressors. Once researchers identified that a particular HIV mutation was present more often in nonprogressors, they designed HIV samples that contain normal or mutated forms of Vpr, and some samples lacking the protein. Badley and his team then mixed those different forms of HIV with human blood cells, and discovered that each type of virus had a different effect on immune cells.
"The amount of cell death was minimal in the virus that did not have Vpr, was quite high in the virus that contained normal Vpr, and was kind of halfway in between in the virus that contained the mutant Vpr," Badley said.
05.15.03; Alison McCook
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