Toxin may destroy HIV-infected cells

Scientists developed a toxin that killed cells infected by HIV to keep the virus from actively reproducing in a mouse model, the U.S. National Institutes of Health said on Thursday.

A team of scientists from the NIH and the University of North Carolina demonstrated that an HIV-specific poison could kill cells in which the virus was actively reproducing despite antiretroviral therapy. The targeted poison could complement antiretroviral therapy, which significantly reduces the replication of HIV in infected cells but is unable to eliminate them all.

In the study, which was recently published in PLoS Pathogens, 40 mice were bioengineered to have a human immune system and were infected with HIV. After giving the mice a combination of antiretroviral drugs for four weeks, half of the animals received a two-week dose of a genetically engineered, HIV-specific poison, which is also called an immunotoxin, to complement the antivirals. The other group received the antiretrovirals alone.

The immunotoxin, 3B3-PE38, was created in 1998 in two NIH laboratories. The genetically modified bacterial toxin enters HIV-infected cells, shuts down protein synthesis and triggers cell death.

The researchers found that the addition of the immunotoxin significantly reduced the level of HIV in the blood and the number of HIV-infected cells producing the virus in multiple organs. The findings suggest that HIV treatment with an immunotoxin could help achieve sustained remission of HIV.

The scientists said that further study is required to confirm the findings.

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National Institutes of Health

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