Understanding how the HIV virus evades immune surveillance

About 36 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses and approximately 38 million people globally are living with HIV.

Dr. Jonathan Cook, a resident physician specializing in medical microbiology at the University of Toronto, is investigating key proteins on the HIV virus that are crucial to developing an effective vaccine.

“These proteins are so interesting because they are necessary for a virus to infect a human,” said Cook. “By blocking their function, we can avert the kinds of infections that you see routinely.”

He and Adree Khondker in the lab of Prof. Jeffrey E. Lee from the Temerty Faculty of Medicine published a paper in Communications Biology that reveals new information on how the HIV virus interacts with immune systems.

Using the CMFC beamline at the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan, the research team analyzed the outer proteins on the HIV virus. They discovered that an area of one protein acts as a decoy — diverting the immune system’s response towards a false target.

This tactic allows the virus to successfully infect human cells and to cause disease.

“The immune system recognizes this sequence on the virus, which is usually a good thing. But, in this situation, the antibodies that the immune system makes don’t protect you from infection,” Cook said.

With the help of the CLS, the researchers confirmed that this decoy area on the HIV protein shapeshifts to entice an ineffective immune response.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Micrographs of crystals from this project that were diffracted at CLS

Science Begins at Brookhaven Lab’s New Cryo-EM Research Facility

Brookhaven Lab’s Laboratory for BioMolecular Structure is now open for experiments with visiting researchers using two NY State-funded cryo-electron microscopes.

UPTON, NY—On January 8, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory welcomed the first virtually visiting researchers to the Laboratory for BioMolecular Structure (LBMS), a new cryo-electron microscopy facility. DOE’s Office of Science funds operations at this new national resource, while funding for the initial construction and instrument costs was provided by NY State. This state-of-the-art research center for life sciences imaging offers researchers access to advanced cryo-electron microscopes (cryo-EM) for studying complex proteins as well as the architecture of cells and tissues.

Many modern advances in biology, medicine, and biotechnology were made possible by researchers learning how biological structures such as proteins, tissues, and cells interact with each other. But to truly reveal their function as well as the role they play in diseases, scientists need to visualize these structures at the atomic level. By creating high-resolution images of biological structure using cryo-EMs, researchers can accelerate advances in many fields including drug discovery, biofuel development, and medical treatments.

Read more on the BNL website

Image: Brookhaven Lab Scientist Guobin Hu loaded the samples sent from researchers at Baylor College of Medicine into the new cryo-EM at LBMS.