Pioneering technique reveals the HIV structure

Hyperaxion Jul 19, 2020

A new observation method has shown that the main structural component of the microorganism is not static.

Physicists at the University of Utah, in the United States, managed to generate images of virus-like particles in real-time, at room temperature, with impressive resolution.

Now, in a study published in June in the Biophysical Journal, the method revealed that the lattice composed of proteins that form the main structural component of the HIV is dynamic – and not static, as scientists imagined.

Pioneering technique reveals the HIV structure
(Credit: Saha and Saffarian (2020) Biphys Journal).

Infecting human cells

When HIV leaves an infected cell, it takes time to become infectious. During this period, dimerization occurs, a process by which the protease enzyme binds to similar molecules and triggers viral maturation, making the virus infectious.

No one knows exactly how these molecules meet and mature, but it is believed that the process is related to the arrangement of the lattice formed by the gag and gag-pol proteins present in the viral capsule that envelops the virus.

An artist's impression of the gag proteins that form the hexagonal structure of the viral lattice.
An artist’s impression of the gag proteins that form the hexagonal structure of the viral lattice. (Credit: Dave Meikle / Saffarian Lab).

Previously it was discovered that gag is the main structural enzyme present in the microorganism, contributing to the formation of a hexagonal lattice – which, it has now been discovered, is not static.

The scientists used a series of techniques to test the new method of observation and then use it to analyze the virus. According to them, the iPALM technique (interferometric photoactivated localization microscopy) with time-lapse images allowed this to become the first study to show that the structure of the lattice protein of an enveloped virus is dynamic.

As the scientists explain in the article, the new tool will be important to better understand the changes that occur in the structure of the virus during its maturation phase.

“What are the molecular mechanisms that lead to infection? It opens up a new line of study,” said Ipsita Saha, study leader and researcher at the University of Utah, in a statement. “If you can figure out that process, maybe you can do something to prevent them from finding each other, like a type of drug that would stop the virus in its tracks.”

Related topics:

AIDS HIV

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