Capsid Pores
HIV remains one of the major issues in global health today. According to the CDC, 36.9 million people have HIV. Additionally, 66 percent of new HIV infections are occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa, so improving ways to combat HIV would benefit development goals in that region as well. However, researchers have recently discovered the existence of capsid pores in the HIV virus that may lead to new treatments.

The way the HIV virus operates is that it infects cells with copies of its own genetic material. The genetic material then incorporates itself into the cell’s DNA and causes the cell to spawn more of the virus. Currently, there is no hard cure for HIV.

Capsid is a protein shell that surrounds the HIV virus. It protects the virus from threats, such as the human immune system. Meanwhile, the HIV capsid pores are able to open up to allow the virus to take in nucleotides, which are the material it uses to make copies of its own genetic material to infect cells with.

The researchers who discovered the pores went on to hexacarboxybenzene, which is known as an inhibitor molecule in that it can block the capsid pores. HIV viruses that had their pores blocked were unable to copy their genetic material.

Unfortunately, the hexacarboxybenzene molecule is unable to pass through human cell membranes, so they cannot target HIV viruses that have already infected human cells. However, now that researchers are aware of the capsid pores, they can work on designing new drugs that can traverse into human cells and still inhibit the pores.

Additionally, the findings on HIV capsid pores could also improve existing treatments. One of the foremost drugs used in suppressing HIV belongs to a family known as reverse transcriptase inhibitors (RTI).

Reverse transcriptase is an enzyme that HIV viruses use in the process of replicating their genetic material, and RTIs inhibit this enzyme. Now, researchers realize that the RTIs must have to traverse the capsid pores in order to be effective, so reevaluating their mode of operation could yield more effective RTIs or lead to the development of other drugs.

The recent discovery of HIV capsid pores is promising in its potential for future breakthroughs.

Edmond Kim

Photo: Flickr