Researchers Catch HIV Infection In The Act

Jim Burroway

March 27th, 2009

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The Telegraph reports:

Researchers found that the virus is transferred from infected cells to healthy ones in a previously unknown way. It is hoped that the discovery will help researchers create a vaccine to combat the virus, which has led to the deaths of more than 25 million people.

The study was made possible after experts created a molecular clone of infectious HIV and inserted a protein into its genetic code which glows green when exposed to blue light. This allowed scientists to see the cells on digital video, and capture the way HIV-infected T-cells interact with uninfected ones.

They noted that when an infected cell came into contact with a healthy one, a bridge was created between them, called a virological synapse.Researchers were then able to observe the fluorescent green viral particles moving towards the synapse and into the healthy cell.

The US study has broken new ground by revealing that it is the synapse through which the viral proteins are gathered and moved into uninfected cells.

… [P]revious efforts to create an HIV vaccine have focused on priming the immune system to recognise and attack proteins of free-circulating virus. The new video footage indicates that HIV avoids recognition by being directly transferred between cells. Dr Huser said: “We should be developing vaccines that help the immune system recognise proteins involved in virological synapse formation and antiviral drugs that target the factors required for synapse formation.”

The study’s findings are available in advance of publication ($15) at the website for the journal Science. The journal has made eleven movies available online for free here.

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