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Padua (Italy) Researchers Discover Protein That Blocks HIV Virus
September 2, 2015

University of Padua (Italy) have discovered a new weapon in the battle against AIDS.

They found that Nucleolin, a multifunctional protein found in human cells and normally involved in the transcription, transport and replication of nucleic acids, can keep the virus from reactivating after a period of latency.

The protein specifically recognises a regulatory section of the genome of the HIV virus when it is integrated into the cellular chromosome.

The discovery, published in the journal 'Nucleic Acids Research', was made by the research team of Professor Sara Richter at the Department of Molecular Medicine at the University of Padua, under the direction of Giorgio Palu.

"We have demonstrated that nucleolin, interacting with a specific gene sequence of HIV, is able to effectively inhibit the reactivation of the virus from the state of latency by blocking the initiation of the infection and the production of viral proteins," said Professor Richter.

The fundamental importance of the identification of this new mechanism involving both viral and cellular factors indicates a possible way in which the virus can enter the state of latency and lays the foundation for the development of new antiviral drugs.

The project was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Research Council.

Italy has the highest percentage of HIV patients in Europe.

Around 140,000 have been infected and more than 1,000 die from the disease each year.

"The condition of integration of the HIV genome into the human DNA is the condition responsible for viral latency, that is, for the persistence of the virus in the various areas of the tissues and organs of infected individuals," said Dr Palu. "The phenomenon is responsible for the inability of the current antiviral drugs to eradicate the infection, so that the virus reappears as soon as the therapy is stopped."

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