'Adapter plug' to turn antibodies into HIV killers


By Nora Schultz An “adapter plug” molecule that transforms spare antibodies into HIV killers could provide a new way to treat AIDS and other viruses. The antibodies targeted by the molecule are called anti-gal. They are naturally present in humans and typically make up 1% of all antibodies in the blood. They help to fight Salmonella and Escherichia coli by binding to a sugar on the bacteria’s surfaces. But unless you are fighting a serious infection, most go spare. “Most of the time these antibodies don’t do much, so we thought it would be useful if we could teach them to recognise HIV,” says Anders Vahlne at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. His team created a molecule with the sugar group that anti-gal recognises on one end. On the other end, they attached a string of amino acids that mimics part of a receptor, found on human immune cells, that binds to HIV. The result is a molecule that binds to both anti-gal and HIV. It acts like a kind of adapter plug for the antibodies, allowing their innate cell-destroying machinery to be unleashed on HIV-infected cells. “The antibodies block the interaction between virus and host cell, recruit molecules that will destroy infected cells, and alert killer cells that will eat them,” says Vahlne, who also does research for the company TriPep in Stockholm, which hopes to commercialise the idea. When his team added HIV to human cells that had been primed with the adapter molecules and anti-gal antibodies, almost 90% of the viruses were unable to infect the cells. The adapters must still be tested in HIV-infected mice but Rowena Johnston of AIDS research foundation amfAR says the work shows how “we might be able to use the innate immune system in a surprising and intriguing way”. Vahlne is also tweaking the molecules to bind to MRSA, responsible for many fatal hospital infections. Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0805777105 HIV and AIDS – Learn more about the worst pandemic in human history in our continuously updated special report. More on these topics:
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