Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla and Cornell University announced Thursday they have solved one of the major scientific riddles associated with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Their breakthrough allowed them to figure out the structure of a protein that envelopes HIV. TSRI said the protein has been one of the most elusive targets in structural biology.
Its structure is so complex and delicate that scientists have had a hard time obtaining it in a form suitable for the atomic-resolution imaging necessary to understand it.
"It tends to fall apart, for example, even when it's on the surface of the virus, so to study it we have to engineer it to be more stable," said Andrew Ward, an assistant professor in TSRI's Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology.
The TSRI/Cornell team was able to engineer a version of the protein and take images from electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography.
The resulting data displayed the complex process by which the enveloping protein assembles and later undergoes radical shape changes during infection. The researchers were also able to compare it to similar proteins on other dangerous viruses, such as flu and Ebola.
Ian Wilson, the Hansen Professor of Structural Biology at TSRI and a senior author of the new research, said the images will allow scientists to probe the protein for vulnerabilities that would be targeted by prospective vaccines.
The findings were published today in two papers in Science Express, the early online edition of the journal Science.
—City News Service