Wednesday, September 8, 2010

HIV/AIDS Updates: TRIM5a Protein in Rhesus Monkeys and New Hope for an AIDS Cure

HIV/AIDS Updates: Researchers discover that a protein we share with the rhesus monkeys may help us find a cure for AIDS

By Alina Oswald
Also published in Out IN Jersey Magazine

Are we ever going to find an AIDS cure?

Twenty-nine years and counting since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, and the question, still on everybody’s minds, remains unanswered.  While recent attempts have been fueling the hope for a possible (but not necessarily affordable) cure, the newest findings may just bring experts a step closer to achieving the ultimate goal.

Edward Campbell, PhD, and his team of researchers at Loyola University Health System, have discovered a protein—called TRIM5a protein—in rhesus monkeys that protects these primates from becoming infected with the immunodeficiency virus. It does that by “latching on” to the virus and, afterwards, other TRIM5a proteins come to its help and gather together to destroy the virus. While the human version of TRIM5a protein protects us from becoming infected with certain viruses, it doesn’t protect us against HIV.

Rhesus monkeys are primates of Asian origin living in Southeast Asia, China, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. They were also introduced in Florida. Rhesus monkeys have brown fur, and red faces and rears. These intelligent animals adapt easily to living in human communities, in particular in India, where the Hindu population believes animals are sacred and does not harm them. 

Throughout the years, these animals’ contribution to medical research has been significant. For example, antigens found in rhesus monkeys helped medical experts identify different human blood groups. When it comes to the newest AIDS-related findings, researchers hope to be able to modify human TRIM5a protein to block infection with HIV. But in order to do so, researchers first have to identify this protein’s components that, in turn, enable it to protect us against viruses.

Proteins, in general, are made of building blocks, of chains of amino acids. These amino acids have a vital role in metabolism. TRIM5a protein is made of approximately 500 amino acid subunits. The research team led by Edward M. Campbell, PhD, has found only six of these amino acids as being located in a previously little known region of the TRIM5a protein. These particular amino acids are vital in the protein’s ability of inhibiting viral infection (or infection with viruses).  To be able to identify these amino acids, researchers at Loyola worked on lab cultures, using a specialized $225,000 microscope—called a wide-field “deconvolution” microscope. To better observe and measure the interaction between HIV and TRIM5a at a microscopic level, researchers attached fluorescent protein to TRIM5a to make it glow.

Also, researchers hope to identify one or more specific amino acids in human TRIM5a protein that inhibit (or could be modified to inhibit) HIV infection. That, in turn, would allow them to develop medications that would mimic TRIM5a’s effect on HIV. 

SOURCES: : Science, Physics, Tech, Nano News : National Geographic

NOTE: The article was published in Out IN Jersey Magazine

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