HIV Treatment Finds a New Target Using the Body's Natural Defense

National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day is observed every year on September 18, so in the midst of showing support for patients, a recent study pinpointed a natural defense against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that may be a novel treatment in the future.

National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day is observed every year on September 18, so in the midst of showing support for patients, a recent study pinpointed a natural defense against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that may be a novel treatment in the future.

ERManI (endoplasmic reticulum mannosidases) is a protein that helps inhibit the HIV virus from replicating. A team from Michigan State University (MSU), along with other researchers, further investigated the protein in The Journal of Biological Chemistry. They previously discovered that the mitochondrial translocator protein (TSPO) induces HIV-1 envelope (Env) degradation, but answers still remained.

“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,” co-author Yong-Hui Zheng, associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at MSU, said in a news release.

As observed with most viruses, a viral envelope protects the HIV host. Viral glycoproteins, or Env spikes, assist the virus in spreading by leading them to binding sites. The team showed, for the first time, that ERManI can inhibit the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein biosynthesis. This discovery provides a new target for antiretroviral therapy (ART).

“We now know that ERManI is an essential key, and that it has the potential as an antiretroviral treatment,” Zheng continued. “We see a way to treat this disease by helping the body protect itself.”

The authors acknowledge it could take decades before ERManI-based treatment becomes a reality. However, the research provides a strong start to conducting clinical tests. The next step would be to determine if increasing ERManI levels promote HIV resistance — a discovery that could change the lives of the 1.2 million people living with the condition in the US.

“That’s why we continue to move our research forward, seemingly slowly at times, because finding a cure will take years. We feel that it’s important enough, on a world-wide scale, to dedicate our work to fighting this disease,” Zheng concluded.