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A study by the CSIC-UPV/EHU Biophysics Unit develops a new "armour" against AIDS infection

August 6, 2010

Santos Mañes, Gemma Fabrias y Félix Goñi.
Santos Mañes, Gemma Fabrias
and Félix Goñi

A study led by Professor Félix Goñi, Head of the Biophysics Unit, a CSIC (Spanish National Research Council) -University of the Basque Country Mixed Centre, has developed a method against AIDS that involves a preventive system based on an "armour" around the cells to be infected. This de facto prevents the virus to reach the cells and to attack the immune system.

The study, started three years ago, lays the foundations for a future drug that might attack the AIDS virus at its preliminary stage. The paper announcing this work is titled Dihydrosphingomyelin impairs HIV-1 infection by rigidifying liquid-ordered membrane domains, and was published in the Chemistry&Biology journal of the Cell Press group.

The research provides a new insight in the scientific research not addressed until now: it is based on the regulation of cell membrane fluidity and intends to avoid the so-called membrane fusion phenomenon resulting from the contact between the cell membranes and the virus membrane itself.

The membrane covers the cell cytoplasm and protects the cell from the outside; its structure is quite similar to the AIDS virus membrane. When both membranes come into contact, the AIDS virus enters the cell taking advantage of its fragility, connects with a specific cellular receptor and starts functioning inside the cell. The research aims to strengthen the cell structure, making it more rigid to avoid membrane fusion and, consequently, the AIDS virus inoculation in the cell.

"It is necessary for the membranes to have a certain degree of fluidity and mobility to enable the cell and virus membranes to join and to open the hole which in turn allows the virus to enter the cell. We have discovered a procedure to make cell membranes more rigid. This might lead to a new drug which makes the membranes to prevent the AIDS virus entering the cells", states Felix M. Goñi, who also chairs the Bizkaia Biophysics Foundation.

The research study has involved, in addition to Prof. Goñi team, the group of the Spanish National Centre of Biotechnology (CSIC-Autonomous University of Madrid) headed by Professor Santos Mañes and the group of Professor Gemma Fabrias, from the Institute of Applied Chemistry of Catalonia (CSIC, Barcelona).