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Virus Causing Kaposi's Sarcoma Discovered

DS pandemic, Kaposi's sarcoma is still the most common cancer associated with HIV infection. Prior to the AIDS pandemic, it was an obscure disease. First identified as a multi-pigmented skin disease by a Hungarian doctor named Moritz Kaposi in 1872, it was considered to be quite rare—a medical curiosity usually found in particular populations such as older Italian men, transplant patients and young men in certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But then at the dawn of the AIDS pandemic in the early 1980s, the small purplish Kaposi's sarcoma skin lesions began appearing on the bodies of young American men, many of whom went on to develop opportunistic infections.

Dr. Berger became interested in KSHV because of his interest in how viruses enter cells. A decade ago, his research team was the first to identify CXCR4 as one of the co receptors that allows HIV to gain entry into cells of the immune system. This discovery quickly led to the identification by Dr. Berger's group and several other research teams of CCR5 as the other HIV coreceptor.

By applying the same technology used to identify CXCR4, Drs. Kaleeba and Berger ultimately identified the protein xCT as the receptor that can make cells permissive for KSHV fusion.

The NIAID discovery may lead to new avenues for treating KSHV, says Dr. Berger. Moreover, their finding should enable scientists to determine whether levels of xCT determine disease severity. It also will allow researchers to study whether the expression of xCT on cells varies among different groups of people and whether these variations are genetic or environmental. This research may ultimately explain why certain groups are more at risk for Kaposi's sarcoma.

"Our finding provides a new perspective on the disease," says Dr. Kaleeba, who is originally from Uganda where Kaposi's sarcoma accounts for at least 10 percent of known tumors. "Hopefully this will be the beginning of exciting new directions
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