Ridding HIV of its cholesterol content deactivates the deadly virus’ ability to trick the immune system and infect the body.
The finding could remove a major hurdle in developing anti-HIV shots, potentially opening the way to new treatments.
The altered HIV doesn’t overwhelm the immune system but triggers it to act in a normal way, says David Graham, assistant professor of molecular and comparative pathobiology at Johns Hopkins.
“Something about the HIV virus turns down the immune response… making it a tough target for vaccine development,” adds Graham, who led the study, the journal Blood reports.
Previous studies suggest that when immune cells (white blood cells) are stripped of their cholesterol content, HIV can no longer infect them, according to a Hopkins statement.
Significantly, Johns Hopkins researchers found the coat that surrounds and protects the HIV viral genome also is rich in cholesterol. They wondered whether HIV stripped of cholesterol could still infect cells.
They accordingly stripped the HIV viral coat of its cholesterol content, this variant or normal HIV to immune cells growing in culture dishes, and measured how the cells responded.
Immune cells exposed to cholesterol-poor HIV didn’t go into an overdrive, but cells exposed to normal HIV did.
Altering the HIV virus reawakened the immune system’s response against HIV and negated its immunosuppressive properties, said Graham.