The virus' inner clothes

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The virus' inner clothes
The virus' inner clothes

The virus's inner clothes

In the fight against the HI virus, scientists are constantly looking for further ways to combat it. New details on the molecular structure of an HIV protein now appear to offer just that - the basis for a new class of highly specific anti-AIDS medication. In the January 16, 1998 issue of Science, University of Maryland B altimore County professor Michael F. Summers and his colleagues publish the detailed three-dimensional molecular structure of a protein-RNA complex important for the spread of the HI virus. They were able to do this with the help of magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

The protein examined is an HIV nucleocapsid protein which binds to the RNA of the virus. It is necessary for the distribution of viral genes to new viral particles. Many anti-AIDS drugs target this protein because damaging it prevents HIV from spreading to other cells.

As early as 1993, Summers discovered that the nucleocapsid protein had to bind to a specific site on the viral RNA so that new viral particles could be formed. This location is characterized by the presence of zinc atoms. Drugs that prevent the spread of the virus by removing the zinc are already in clinical trials in the US and UK.

The scientists hope that their additional knowledge of the molecular structure of the protein will play a role in future drug development. In their opinion, anti-AIDS drugs that prevent the binding of the nucleocapsid protein to the RNA could be particularly effective. Since the combination of these two components differs greatly from other reactions in human cells, a drug that is only effective against virus replication could be developed.

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