Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

One reason that treatments for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are particularly difficult to develop is that HIV is quite good at adapting resistance to drugs. Many of the virus’ surface proteins–natural targets for inhibitory drugs–have a high turnover rate and are easily changed. There are a few exceptions; a few well-conserved surface proteins that are integral to HIV’s function. One of these is the protein gp41 (below), which is required for HIV to attach onto a host cell, and infect it.

i-9aa2e159e12365211d67739ecd9758ae-hiv virus.bmp

However, a recent paper in Cell describes a naturally-occurring blood molecule called VIRIP (virus inhibitory peptide) which can bind to gp41, preventing the HIV virus from ever infecting cells. Furthermore, they’ve found a way to modify VIRIP to be 100x more potent.

(Continued below the fold…)

HIV is tiny (it 1/60 the size of a red blood cell) and has a unique composition. Within an cellular envelope (capsid) are 2 copies of single-stand RNA which code the viruses nine (yes, just nine) genes. Also within the capsid are proteins and enzymes needed for the survival and propagation of the virus. At the surface are many “Env complexes” which consist of gp41 molecules (green) and gp120 molecules (purple). These complexes are what gives the HIV virus the ability to attach to and infect human cells, dumping the capsid into the host cell and forcing it to make more HIV virus (see diagram below.)

i-edfef78fd9117a577da69dc2689c6ab1-hiv replicate.bmp

Keeping that in mind, Munch et al. discovered that an endogenous human blood molecule called VIRIP binds to gp41 which prevents the virus from being able to attach to a host’s cells. This precludes infection and viral replication, and therefore looks to be a innovative and promising therapy. This also helps to explain why some people are naturally more resistant to HIV infection. VIRIP levels in people are variable, however VIRIP levels in humans and infective risk has not yet been investigated. This therapy is promising in another regard in that gp41 molecules are required for viral function. While HIV may be wily at adapting to drugs and hosts, this is a protein that must stay put, making it a prime therapeutic target.

However, the group noticed that while regular VIRIP worked pretty well, a slight modification in VIRIP’s structure (changed three amino acids) rendered it 100 times more effective at binding to and inactivating gp41. Changing the structure in another way made VIRIP inactive, which indicated the binding site (ie, don’t mess with that.) The modified VIRIP inhibited every variant of HIV-1 (most common human type) that they tested, but did not change the infectivity of HIV-2 or SIV or Ebola, etc.

Trivia: The authors initially isolated endogenous VIRIP from over 10,000 liters of blood! After that, they made artificial VIRIP.

Source: Munch et al. 2007. 129. Cell.
Nature News

Comments

  1. #1 Minnesotachuck
    April 19, 2007

    Shelly,
    There seems to be something screwed up with the link. I can’t get “below the fold”.

    SB: CRAP! I published too early (work in progress).

  2. #2 Jon
    April 20, 2007

    That’s really cool. I hadn’t heard of VIRIP before. I wonder if people with high levels of VIRIP are being selected for in sub-Saharan Africa, and that over time people will become more resistant to the disease?

  3. #3 Charlie (Colorado)
    April 20, 2007

    There is an already-known population in Africa who are naturally resistant; I wonder if they express this protein?

  4. #4 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 20, 2007

    It’s so purty, surrounded by those lovely purple tulips. why do you hate beauty?

  5. #5 Shelley
    April 20, 2007

    Charlie, I think this same team (Munch’s group) is checking out that issue as we speak.

    Everyone expresses the protein in small levels, its thought to be that some people express in very large levels, and perhaps they a more resistant. However, remember that these populations would most likely have extra amounts of the normal protein, while its the modified protein that really seems to kick HIVs butt full force.

  6. #6 Lab Lemming
    April 21, 2007

    Dear Shelley,
    Cool post. Just a couple of questions:
    1. For those of us unfamiliar with the size of red blood cells, can you give the virus size in SI units?
    2. Do HIV2, ebola, etc. use a binding protein other than gp41?

  7. #7 Shelley
    April 24, 2007

    Lab Lemming: The authors actually did test the effectiveness of the inhibitor to reduce the replication and infection rates of HIV2, ebola, and SIV and found it did not make an impact. So from that data I would assume that those viruses either use a different docking protein or another one in paralell which can substitute function.

    The virus is about 120 nm in diameter.

  8. #8 Simon
    April 24, 2007

    Very interesting. Studying how HIV infect cell is important for prevention. However, more people concern how to use drug to treat HIV. Some people are posting their articles in my HIV blog

  9. #9 chrism
    April 24, 2007

    (for Lab Lemming) A red blood cell is 6-8 um (microns) in size. HIV is ~120nm (nanometers).

  10. #10 chrism
    April 24, 2007

    Sorry Shelly! I hadn’t noticed the last line of your reply when I posted.

  11. #11 CArley
    March 24, 2009

    wow

  12. #12 EDUADO DOSANJO OSANJO
    April 21, 2011

    I medics if organism is adapting to drugs you required to up grade the drug or introduce a very power full one but you must take care that you don’t harm the host.
    It its good to start feeding the patient or the victim with modify (VIRIP)When his or her (CD4)is still at a high level