Pharmaceutics graduate student David Plotnik is first author on a paper published in the Journal of Virology with his mentor Shiu-Lok Hu as senior author. David discovered that the HIV virus does not bind to intestinal T cells the way previously thought.
Why is that important? HIV causes disease by killing the immune system’s protective T cells, most of which are located in the intestines. When HIV invades the intestines, it destroys intestinal T cells, a loss that plays a major role in the development of AIDS. Finding strategies for protecting intestinal T cells are expected to improve HIV vaccines and therapies.
Most of the intestinal T cells have a receptor called α4β7 that had been thought to bind to the HIV envelope protein, causing the infection—so this interaction between the receptor and HIV is being investigated as a potential target for therapies and vaccines. David discovered that—contrary to previous reports—the HIV envelope protein does not bind to α4β7.
There is a different protein, fibronectin (normally found in tissue), that forms a link between the HIV envelope and α4β7. This finding changes the understanding of how intestinal T cells are targeted by HIV, and suggests new therapeutic approaches for protecting these cells.
This work was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NIH grant P51 OD010425, the UW Proteomics Resource grant UWPR95794, and Milo Gibaldi Endowment. David was supported by the Pharmaceutical Sciences Training Grant also (T32 GM007750).
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