Discovery could lead to better HIV treatment options

Professor Katherine Jones, from left, with researchers Yupeng Chen and Lirong Zhang.
Professor Katherine Jones, from left, with researchers Yupeng Chen and Lirong Zhang. | Courtesy of Salk Institute

The recent discovery of the new protein Ssu72 by researchers at the Salk Institute could lead to advancements in how the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is treated.

Ssu72 is part of a switch used to awaken HIV-1 from its dormancy and was found by the researchers after they began identifying a list of approximately 50 proteins that interact with the HIV protein Tat. HIV-1 is the most common type of HIV. 

"The virus cannot live without Tat," Katherine Jones, a professor in the institute's Regulatory Biology Laboratory, said.

Jones is the senior author of a report on the discovery published in the new issue of Genes & Development.

Salk researchers plan to investigate how they can use the Ssu72 protein to treat HIV and also are examining if HIV infections result from low levels of Ssu72 in resting T cells.

"Tat is like an engine for HIV replication and Ssu72 revs up the engine," Lirong Zhang, one of the study's authors and a Salk researcher, said. "If we target this interaction between Ssu72 and Tat, we may be able to stop the replication of HIV."

Researchers found that Ssu72 is not required for making RNA for most host cell genes. This makes it a promising target for the development of a new drug therapy to treat HIV. 

More than 35 million people worldwide are living with HIV and approximately 1 million people die each year due to the disease, the World Health Organization reports.

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