How Cats Could Help to Treat HIV

New research now explains how cats could aid the development of new drugs for HIV.

Scientists have now unraveled the 3-D structure of a specific protein in feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) that is also present in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The researchers, Akram Alian and Dr. Meytal Galilee, both from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, consider their discoveries as the door to new drugs that could tackle drug-resistant HIV-1.

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s T cells, which are immune cells that assist us to stave off infection and disease.

When HIV first came into existence in the 1980s, there was fear and stigma surrounding the virus and scientists knew very little about HIV, and there were no treatments for it.

However, all that is in the past now, because a person with HIV can live a long, healthy life courtesy of antiretroviral drugs.

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These medications work by reducing levels of HIV in the blood, to the point where the virus can be unnoticeable. This means that the virus does not negatively affect a person’s health and it cannot be transferred on to other people.

However, not all people with HIV who receive antiretroviral drugs will achieve undetectable blood levels of the virus, and some persons with HIV may develop resistance to these medications.

Now scientists are looking to develop new drugs for HIV, and Alian and Dr. Galilee believe that cats may help to achieve this aim.

Link between HIV and FIV

Like HIV, FIV attacks the immune system of a cat, making it vulnerable to infection. FIV and HIV belong to the same group of viruses, but FIV cannot be transmitted to humans.

Scientists have been studying FIV as a way to learn more about HIV because of the similarities between the two viruses.

The researchers focused on a protein called “reverse transcriptase.” In FIV and HIV, this protein can replicate the RNA genome of the virus into DNA. This DNA will then be implanted into the genome of the host, which causes their cells to replicate the virus.

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In FIV, reverse transcriptase is resistant to reverse-transcriptase inhibitors (RTIs), antiretroviral drugs that can block this protein in people with HIV.

There is a concern that HIV could develop the same resistance to these drugs as FIV, but the new findings may have already found an answer, should this be the case.

Discoveries may lead to new HIV treatments

Alian and Dr. Galilee were able to use purification and crystallization techniques to crack the 3-D structure of the FIV reverse transcriptase protein, which revealed the mechanisms behind the protein’s resistance to RTIs.

The scientists discovered that reverse transcriptase protein within FIV generates a “closed pocket” that prevents RTIs from effectively binding to it, rendering it resistant to the drugs.

According to the study authors;

“We further show that mutating the protein to facilitate binding of the inhibitors does not confer sensitivity to these inhibitors, suggesting that other variances inherent in FIV RT [reverse transcriptase] modulate a second layer of resistance.”

They say that their findings may not only lead to new treatments for FIV, but they could pave the way for future HIV treatments.

The researchers recently reported their results in the journal PLOS Pathogens.


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