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How HIV disables the cells' call for help

op. FP was known to play a role in the complex process in which the viral envelop fuses with the cell membrane in the initial stage of cell infection. The researchers suspected that FP, which is only exposed for a short period during this process, may have enough time to affect the immune response as well. Indeed, they found that FP locks on to several proteins on the cell walls that are involved in invoking a large-scale immune response, effectively shutting them down.

From their new understanding of how a tiny virus can gain control of the body's immune response, the scientists made an intuitive leap. In autoimmune diseases, the same T cells that play host to HIV viruses are overactive, mistakenly attacking the body's cells instead of foreign invaders. If the viruses use FPs to override the cells' call for help, could their actions, which block one type of immune response without killing the cell, be applied to these autoimmune diseases? To check their theory, the research team tested FP on rats suffering from an autoimmune syndrome similar to human rheumatoid arthritis, and on cultured human T cells. As they predicted, the rats treated with FP showed a significant reduction in joint swelling and other symptoms of arthritis.

Shai points out that using FP, a tiny piece of a piece of the HIV virus, would pose no danger to patients as it lacks any ability to either infect cells or to reproduce. Rather, as the scientists note in their paper, the study of a destructive virus may contain important lessons on how to regulate the immune system. "Perhaps," says Cohen, "we humans can adopt the virus peptide to better control overactive autoimmunity."

Prof. Irun Cohen's research is supported by the Minna James Heineman Stiftung; the Robert Koch Minerva Center for Research in Autoimmune Disease; and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Theodore Cohen, Chicago, IL.

Prof. Cohen is the incumbent of the Helen and Morris Mauerberger Professorial Chair in Immunology.
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Source:American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science


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