New ways to target the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

20 March 2013

BPRC - 1. New ways to target the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

In HIV infected humans, antibodies have been identified that can prevent infection in cell cultures by binding to an essential region close to the membrane of the virus. While it is highly attractive to include this part of the virus in an anti-HIV/AIDS vaccine, previous attempts to obtain similar immune responses by immunization have failed. Using llamas and a special delivery vehicle, researchers have now found ways to solve this problem.

The part of the protein next to the membrane (MPER) plays a critical role during the entry of HIV into a cell.  Blocking this process should therefore prevent infection. However, it has proven difficult to attack this part of the virus, because it is difficult to access and only transiently exposed during infection of a cell.

Researchers have now developed an experimental vaccine that consists of a mixture of MPER, together with specific membrane parts of the virus and lipids. Similar to a previous study, they have immunized llamas with this material. Using this experimental vaccine in llamas, for the first time, functional antibodies against MPER were induced that could prevent HIV infection in cell cultures.

The development of an experimental vaccine and a functional anti-HIV antibody shows great promise for the development of novel anti-HIV/AIDS vaccines and treatments. This work, to which researchers of the BPRC have contributed, was described in the journal ‘PlosPathogens’.