Scientists conducting research for the National Institutes for Health announced a new target in the effort to develop an HIV vaccine. Their recent discovery has revealed that a neutralizing antibody (a protein made by the immune system) that is produced by some HIV-positive individuals bonds to the fusion peptide of the virus. According to the study, which appeared in the journal Science, this process provides a window into how antibody structures bind, and may lay the groundwork for an HIV vaccine. The antibody, named N123-VRC34.01, targets the fusion peptide located on HIV and stops the virus from infecting cells by halting the ability of subunits to transmit information about the virus to the target cell. The fusion peptide is a much more simple structure connected to the virus, made up of eight amino acids. This helps the virus to fuse with a cell and to begin transcription of HIV genetic material into the targeted cell.
The research team looked at the blood of an HIV-infected individual to see if this hindered the virus’ ability to infect cells. While there was some success, the blood did not target ‘vulnerable spots’ on the virus, locations where virus neutralizing antibodies would bind with the virus.
One of these antibodies, VRC34.01, was identified to be able to attach to the HIV virus and to stop it from infecting a cell successfully. Now, they seek to design a vaccine for the virus based on this discovery. Like VRC34.01, it will be focused on creating antibodies that engage the virus in a similar way.