Novel Target for Blocking HIV

Photo: HIV

Research findings open new front
in fight against HIV; © PHIL

In the new study, Pamela Schwartzberg, M.D., Ph.D., a senior investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of NIH; Andrew J. Henderson, Ph.D., of Boston University; and their colleagues found that when they interfered with a human protein called interleukin-2-inducible T cell kinase (ITK) they inhibited HIV infection of key human immune cells, called T cells. ITK is a signaling protein that activates T cells as part of the body’s healthy immune response.

“This new insight represents an important contribution to HIV research,” said NHGRI Scientific Director Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D. “Finding a cellular target that can be inhibited so as to block HIV validates a novel concept and is an exciting model for deriving potential new HIV therapies.” When HIV enters the body, it infects T cells and takes over the activities of these white blood cells so that the virus can replicate. Eventually, HIV infection compromises the entire immune system and causes AIDS. The new work shows that without active ITK protein, HIV cannot effectively take advantage of many signaling pathways within T cells, which in turn slows or blocks the spread of the virus.

In their laboratory experiments, the researchers used a chemical inhibitor and a type of genetic inhibitor, called RNA interference, to inactivate ITK in human T cells. Then, the T cells were exposed to HIV, and the researchers studied the effects of ITK inactivation upon various stages of HIV’s infection and replication cycle. Suppression of ITK reduced HIV’s ability to enter T cells and have its genetic material transcribed into new virus particles.

However, ITK suppression did not interfere significantly with T cells’ normal ability to survive, and mice deficient in ITK were able to ward off other types of viral infection, although antiviral responses were delayed. According to Schwartzberg, ITK already is being investigated as a therapeutic target for asthma and other diseases that affect immune response.; Source: NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute