Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center recently discovered that HIV makes a small protein that manipulates human genes so the virus can advance into AIDS.
HIV hijacks the immune cells, making them HIV reproduction hubs, in order to develop AIDS. HIV destroys other immune cells, hides within cells, and compromises the immune system even though patients may accept antiretroviral therapy (ART).
"Our study indicates that this small viral protein, Tat, directly binds to about 400 human genes to generate an environment in which HIV can thrive,” Dr. Iván D'Orso, assistant professor of microbiology at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study, said. “Then, this protein precisely turns off the body's immune defense. It is striking that such a small viral protein has such a large impact. The human genes and pathways that Tat manipulates correlate well with symptoms observed in these patients, such as immune system hyperactivation, then weakening, and accelerated aging.”
HIV doesn’t have enough genes to spread through a body, which is why it manipulates the body’s cells to spread itself through the host.
"We observed that HIV methodically and precisely manipulates the host's genes and cellular machinery,” D’Orso said. “We also observed that HIV rewires cellular defensive pathways to benefit survival of the virus.”
This discovery may help researchers discover and develop better treatments for AIDS patients. It could also help them develop better preventive strategies for people who are HIV-positive.
"We have identified the molecular mechanisms by which the Tat protein made by HIV interacts with the host cell to activate or repress several hundred human genes," D'Orso said. "The findings clearly suggest that blocking Tat activity may be of therapeutic value to HIV patients."