It's Worth a Shot!

New vaccine strategies could result from trapping a shape-change during HIV infection

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

People produce HIV antibodies once infected, but many of these antibodies are ineffective at fighting the disease.

Many of these antibodies target the protein in a form it takes after the virus has already invaded the cell, when it's too late, according to new research from Children’s Hospital Boston.

This research refocuses attention on the rare group of neutralizing antibodies that do work, the ones that hone in on the protein at an earlier moment when the virus latches onto a healthy cell. Many believe that an HIV vaccine would have to greatly expand this rare antibody immune response to block infection. The hospital has filed for patents on two new proteins designed to expand this antibody response.

“The key finding of this paper is that we can distinguish the shape of the protein targeted by useful antibodies,” said Bing Chen, PhD, senior author of the study from the Division of Molecular Medicine at Children's.

The results from the finding suggest that researchers can now think about how to prevent the protein from forming into what Chen describes as an “irrelevant conformation.”

“This paper helps to resolve key questions plaguing the field: Why do certain forms of the protein interact with certain antibodies, and why aren't these antibodies in general more effective?” said virologist Dan Barouch, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who was not involved in the study.

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Review Date: 
November 22, 2010