Gene linked to HIV virus defence

A gene that provides a natural defence against the Aids virus could pave the way for new treatments for HIV, scientists said today.

A gene that provides a natural defence against the Aids virus could pave the way for new treatments for HIV, scientists said today.

Researchers found that the gene, CEM15, stops HIV in its tracks if the virus is slightly modified.

Normally, HIV overcomes CEM15 by producing a protein called Vif that suppresses its activity.

Without Vif, the gene interferes with the HIV life cycle and renders any new virus particles non-infectious.

Professor Michael Malim, at King’s College, London, and US colleague Dr Ann Sheehy at the University of Pennsylvania, studied cells infected with a form of HIV lacking Vif. They found that CEM15 made the virus harmless.

‘‘These are very significant findings and could open the door to new treatments for HIV/Aids in the future,’’ said Professor Malim.

‘‘Previous studies have shown that Vif is crucial in infection and neutralizes some sort of defence system in healthy cells. Our research has identified CEM15 as a key component of the system in question.

‘‘If we can find a way to block the action of Vif, it would allow CEM15 to work properly and prevent HIV from spreading.’’

The research is reported in the on-line edition of the journal Nature.

Combination therapies which use multiple antiviral drugs are currently the best way to treat HIV.

But they do not eradicate the virus completely, and HIV develops resistance to the drugs in about half of all treated patients.

Professor Malim said: ‘‘It’s very ambitious, but we may see Vif developed as a new target for therapy in the next 10 years.’’

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