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Researchers identify toehold for HIV's assault on brain
Date:11/14/2008

Scientists have unraveled in unprecedented detail the cascade of events that go wrong in brain cells affected by HIV, a virus whose assault on the nervous system continues unabated despite antiviral medications that can keep the virus at bay for years in the rest of the body.

The new research reveals key steps taken in the brain by Tat, a protein that is central to HIV's attack on cells called neurons. Researchers discovered the receptor that Tat uses to attack neurons, and they were able to reverse the effects of Tat in the laboratory by blocking the receptor.

The discovery of a major molecular player in the process opens up a new avenue for researchers to explore in their efforts to prevent or treat HIV's neurological effects, for which there is no currently approved treatment. Researchers say that much of the molecular action that underlies HIV's attack on the brain also occurs in other diseases, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, and that the results spell progress for those conditions as well.

The team from the University of Rochester Medical Center and other institutions published its results online Nov. 13 in the journal PloS One.

The powerful antiviral drugs that keep many HIV patients healthy for years don't completely eradicate the virus from the body, and in the brain, even the very low levels of that remain cause relentless damage. Scientists have observed that a large percentage of HIV patients perhaps up to half show evidence of neurologic disease from the virus,

"The current medications give many patients a new lease on life. But the virus is still taking a toll on the brain, even when the virus appears to be much less active elsewhere in the body," said the paper's corresponding author, neurologist Harris "Handy" Gelbard, M.D., Ph.D. of the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Gelbard was a newly minted pediatric neurologist embarking on his career when a good friend of
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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