AUTOIMMUNE
February 26, 2010

Molecule Appears to Block HIV Transmission

Surfen, a molecule that prevents the HIV virus from communicating with an important compound in semen, holds promise as a means of prevention.

Researchers say that they’ve discovered a molecule, dubbed surfen, which may hinder the transmission of the HIV virus through sex. While past attempts to create a topical microbicide have proven somewhat futile, the team says the current research may ultimately lead to an effective preventative measure.

The key to surfen is that it inhibits an integral compound in semen known as SEVI, or “semen−derived enhancer of viral infection.” Lead author Warner Greene at the Gladstone Institutes in California says that he and his team “have been studying SEVI, a naturally occurring factor present in semen that can make HIV thousands of times more infectious. Knowing more about surfen, a SEVI inhibitor, might enable us to lower transmission rates of HIV."

Surfen is so promising because it does just that: it stops SEVI from communicating with – and thus upping the infectiousness of – the HIV virus.

SEVI makes HIV extremely transmittable through semen – up to 100,000 times more than it might otherwise be, say the researchers – by helping the virus glom on to the host’s cells. Without the help of this compound, HIV has a hard time infecting host cells effectively.

Surfen is so promising because it does just that: it stops SEVI from communicating with – and thus upping the infectiousness of – the HIV virus. Greene says that “[w]hat we have found is this small molecule...can block SEVI binding to HIV virions [viruses] and thus interrupt the infectious cycle or the transmission cycle.” He adds that this mechanism may lead to a very effective future treatment because it uses “agents that target not only the virus but the host factor propelling the virus infection − I think that combination might produce a therapeutic synergy that could be quite effective.”

Greene adds that like current anti−HIV “cocktails” that use a variety of drugs to combat the disease, using a similar approach might also make a good prophylactic. "Just as we use combination anti−retroviral therapy to treat patients with HIV infection, we might be able to prevent transmission of HIV using combination microbicides,” he says.

The findings were published in the January 15 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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