Shedding New Light on HIV Infection
Understanding how HIV infects humans is crucial to stopping the spread of the AIDS virus. If scientists could prevent HIV entry, the virus would not be able to multiply.
Dr. Andrés Finzi, Canada Research Chair in Retroviral Entry, hopes that, by improving our understanding of how HIV enters human cells, his research will shed light on how to stop HIV infection before the virus can infect cells.
To multiply and to infect a host, HIV must first penetrate cells using a specific “key” that recognizes a corresponding “lock” on the surface of certain human cells. For infection to happen, this viral key—the HIV envelope glycoproteins (“Env”) that attach themselves to the cell’s membrane—also has to “turn.” To do so, the glycoproteins must change their shape and structure to enable the virus to fuse with the target cell.
By gaining insight into the changes Env undergoes during HIV entry, Finzi hopes to support the development of new antigens that evoke immune responses in order to produce antibodies that can fight Env. He also hopes to identify small molecule inhibitors that could block Env before the virus can enter the cell.
Better understanding this crucial stage in the HIV replication cycle could not only lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets (vulnerable sites on HIV-1 Env that can be targeted to block HIV-1-infection), but could also help in developing vaccines.