September 16, 2015


Yong-Hui Zheng, associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics,
Tao Zhou, postdoctoral research, and Dylan Frabutt, doctoral student, were part of
an international team to find a natural treatment for HIV. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

(September 16, 2015)  Researchers at Michigan State University were part of a team to discover a new natural defense against HIV infection.

The team’s discovery, featured in the current issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, focuses on ERManI, a protein that prevents the HIV virus from replicating.

“In earlier studies, we knew that we could interfere with the spread of HIV-1, but we couldn’t identify the mechanism that was stopping the process,” said Yong-Hui Zheng, MSU associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics and co-author of the study. “We now know that ERManI is an essential key, and that it has the potential as a antiretroviral treatment.”

Antiretroviral treatments are not vaccines; they simply keep HIV in check in low levels in the body. While it could be decades before an ERManI-based treatment can be prescribed for HIV-1 patients, these results provide a strong path for future research involving human cells, and later, clinical tests.

The next steps will be to test if HIV resistance can be promoted by increasing ERManI levels, said Zheng, who worked on the study with scientists from the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Georgia.

Most viruses have viral envelopes, or protective skins, that comprise similar building blocks of the host the pathogens are trying to infect. On the surface of the envelope, there are viral glycoproteins, known as Env spikes, which act as valets, leading viruses to binding sites that allow infections to spread at the molecular level. They serve as a key of sorts that gives viruses entry into the host to begin spreading.

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