Highly developed microscope technology makes it possible: researchers led by Dr. Barbara Müller of the Department of Infectiology at Heidelberg University and by Professor Don C. Lamb from the University of Munich, have for the first time ever been able to demonstrate in detail how specific proteins of human immune cells interact with HIV components to enable them to leave the infected cells.
With the methods we have at our disposal, we are also able to study the effects of drugs on infected cells, which may enable us to improve their efficacy or even lead to the development of new classes of active compounds,” said Dr. Barbara Müller going on to add “our ultimate goal is to elucidate the entire life cycle of HI viruses.”
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, invades human immune cells and causes them to produce new copies of the virus, which in turn infect other cells. The team of researchers have been able to show how a specific host cell protein (the enzyme VPS4A) causes newly generated HI viruses to bud from the host cell and infect new cells. Thanks to an advanced microscopy technique involving live cells, the researchers were able to gain completely new insights into the budding of HI viruses: “We have even been able to count the number of enzyme molecules that interact in a given period of time,” said Professor Don C. Lamb. The scientists have also been able to reveal that VPS4A acts at an earlier stage in the budding process than was previously believed.
The investigation was carried out by researchers from three excellence clusters: “CellNetworks” in Heidelberg, the Centre for Integrated Protein Science Munich (CIPSM) and Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM). In addition, the research was also funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) under the priority programme 1175 (“Dynamics of cellular membranes and their exploitation through viruses”) coordinated by the University Hospital of Heidelberg.