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Scientists unveil piece of HIV protein that may be key to AIDS vaccine development

In a finding that could have profound implications for AIDS vaccine design, researchers led by a team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have generated an atomic-level picture of a key portion of an HIV surface protein as it looks when bound to an infection-fighting antibody. Unlike much of the constantly mutating virus, this protein component is stable and—more importantly, say the researchers—appears vulnerable to attack from this specific antibody, known as b12, that can broadly neutralize HIV.

"Creating an HIV vaccine is one of the great scientific challenges of our time," says NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. "NIH researchers and their colleagues have revealed a gap in HIV's armor and have thereby opened a new avenue to meeting that challenge."

The research team was led by Peter Kwong, Ph.D., of NIAID's Vaccine Research Center (VRC). His collaborators included other scientists from NIAID and the National Cancer Institute, NIH, as well as investigators from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, and The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA. Their paper appears in the February 15 issue of Nature and is now available online.

"This elegant work by Dr. Kwong and his colleagues provides us with a long-sought picture of the precise interaction between the HIV gp120 surface protein and this neutralizing antibody," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "This finding could help in the development of an HIV vaccine capable of eliciting a robust antibody response."

For years, AIDS vaccine developers have been stymied by the seemingly unlimited ways HIV eludes natural and vaccine-induced immune defenses. Notes Dr. Kwong, "The more we learned about HIV, the more we realized just how many levels of defense the virus has against attacks by the immune system." For example, not only does HIV mutate rapidly and continuously—defeating attempt
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Source:NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases


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