Penn State Researchers Target Selenium To Slow AIDS Progression
Penn State scientists were able to slow replication of the AIDS producing virus by increasing selenium production in the blood cells. Sandeep Prabhu, Penn State assistant professor of immunology and molecular toxicology says, "Our results suggest a reduction in [HIV] viral replication by at least 10-fold."
Selenium helps the body with immune function, facilitating normal metabolism. Most of our body's nutrients bind to other proteins, dictating how those proteins behave. Selenium joins with body's proteins to form the amino selenocysteine. Selenium is an essential mineral found in the soil, some foods and water. Selenium is important for thyroid function, and is toxic if introduced into the body in large quantities. Selenium may also be a key element for use in developing new drugs that slow the progression of AIDS.
The researchers of the current study observed that the AIDS virus depletes the body of selenoproteins. Selenoproteins are proteins in the body that contain selenium. When the body is depleted of the selenium containing proteins, the AIDS virus rapidly reproduces. The mechanism of how this occurs is not clear to the scientists, but they believe the AIDS virus stresses the blood cells. Once that occurs, Tat, and odd member of 14 groups of proteins produced by HIV triggers the genes that fuel the AIDS producing virus. TR1 is a selenoprotein. It hones in on Tat. What is Selenium, and what foods provide it?
Dr. Prabhu explains, "Since HIV targets the selenoproteins, we thought that the logical way to deal with the virus is to increase the expression of such proteins in the body." The scientist isolated blood cells from humans without AIDS to conduct their experiment. Next, they infected the cells with HIV. When they introduced a selenium compound, sodium selenite, into the cells they found they were able to slow progression of the AIDS producing virus tenfold, when comparing to cells without the addition of sodium selenite. When they removed the selenoprotein Tr1 from the cells, the researchers observed a 3.5 fold increase in virus replication.
"Once we fully understand the function of these selenium proteins, it will give us a handle to come up with more effective drugs, "says Dr. Prabhu. He believes the selenoprotein TR1 slows the progression of AIDS by interrupting the Tat protein in HIV infected cells that fuels the AIDS producing virus.