Images of AIDS Virus That May Shape Vaccine

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AIDS Vaccine

As the world marks the 25th year since the first diagnosed case of AIDS, groundbreaking research by scientists at Florida State University has produced remarkable three-dimensional images of the virus and the protein spikes on its surface that allow it to bind and fuse with human immune cells.

Findings from this AIDS research could boost the development of vaccines that will thwart infection by targeting and crippling the sticky HIV-1 spike proteins. In fact, said principal investigator and FSU Professor Kenneth H. Roux, at least two laboratories already are crafting vaccine candidates based on preliminary results uncovered by his team of structural biologists.

Those results are described in the online edition of the journal Nature.

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Never before generated in such intricate detail, the super-sized images of the virus and its viral spikes have given researchers their first good look at the pathogen's complex molecular surface architecture that facilitates the infection process.

"Until now, despite intensive study by many laboratories, the design details of the spikes and their distribution pattern on the surface of the virus membrane have been poorly understood, which has limited our understanding of how the virus infection actually occurs and frustrated efforts to create vaccines," Roux said.

To produce the images, research associate Ping Zhu, Roux, and their colleagues used a state-of-the art technique called cryoelectron microscopy tomography. It generates three-dimensional images similar to those from a CAT scan, but at the level of viruses and molecules rather than tissues and organs.

They imaged HIV samples as well as a mutant SIV (non-human primate) strain, genetically engineered for the study by collaborators at the National Cancer Institute to express about 74 spikes as opposed to the 14 found on the HIV virus

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