Findings from this AIDS research could boost the development of vaccines that will thwart infection by targeting and crippling the sticky HIV-1 spike proteins. In fact, said principal investigator and FSU Professor Kenneth H. Roux, at least two laboratories already are crafting vaccine candidates based on preliminary results uncovered by his team of structural biologists.
“Until now, despite intensive study by many laboratories, the design details of the spikes and their distribution pattern on the surface of the virus membrane have been poorly understood, which has limited our understanding of how the virus infection actually occurs and frustrated efforts to create vaccines,” Roux said.
To produce the images, research associate Ping Zhu, Roux, and their colleagues used a state-of-the art technique called cryoelectron microscopy tomography. It generates three-dimensional images similar to those from a CAT scan, but at the level of viruses and molecules rather than tissues and organs.
They imaged HIV samples as well as a mutant SIV (non-human primate) strain, genetically engineered for the study by collaborators at the National Cancer Institute to express about 74 spikes as opposed to the 14 found on the HIV virus.
The virus samples were suspended in a thin liquid film stretched across the holes of a small copper grid and then flash-frozen, creating a solid form of ice that is more like clear glass than the typical crystalline form in ice cubes. Once inside the electron microscope, electrons bombarded the samples from myriad angles, magnifying it more than 43,000 times to reveal its surprising. As a result, the researchers were able to hone in on the envelope - the lipid membrane covering the virus itself. They imaged the spikes protruding from the envelope, which contain the only viral protein molecules on the HIV surface.
MEDICA.de; Source: Florida State University