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Monkey Protein Fights HIV from Inside Cells

By Edward R. Winstead

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HIV/AIDS

A protein in monkey cells prevents HIV (above) from replicating.
A protein in monkeys that disables the AIDS virus once the virus enters a cell is apparently the reason that monkeys do not become sick after exposure to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The research, reported today in Nature, suggests new possibilities for AIDS research that focuses on proteins that fight viruses from inside a cell.

Human cells make a protein that looks like the monkey protein, but it is much less effective in blocking HIV than the monkey version, researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston report.

The monkey protein is highly similar to its human counterpart, but there are differences that probably account for the potent anti-HIV effect in monkeys. These key differences will be the focus of future research, says Joseph Sodroski of Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who led the study.

The monkey protein, discovered in the cells of rhesus monkeys, is highly specialized. It does not protect against the virus called SIV that causes an AIDS-like disease in monkeys.

“The protein keys right in on HIV,” says Sodroski, noting that the protein’s “extreme specificity” and “anti-HIV potency” were remarkable.

Called TRIM5-alpha, the protein belongs to a family of more than 30 human proteins. Little is known about what these proteins do in the body, but finding out ranks high on the list of things the Harvard team will do next.

“Like a lot of initial discoveries, this raises many, many more questions than it answers,” says Sodroski.

Stremlau, M. et al. The Cytoplasmic Body Component TRIM5-alpha Restricts HIV-1 Infection in Old World Monkeys. Nature 427, 848-853 (February 26, 2004).

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