Study suggests cholesterol helps AIDS virus infect some cells

Monday, November 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ When the AIDS virus invades a cell, it picks a place on the cell's membrane that is rich in cholesterol, according to a new study at the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of NIH, found that HIV, the virus that causes AIDs, attaches to a semi-solid patch on the cell's membrane that is loaded with cholesterol. These patches, which move around on the cell membrane, are called rafts.

In laboratory studies, the researchers found that when they removed cholesterol from the cells targeted by HIV, the virus' ability to make new viral particles or to infect additional cells was crippled.

A report on the study appears Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study proves that an HIV protein, called Gag, targets the cholesterol-loaded rafts as a site where it attaches to the inner cell membrane surface. Earlier research had shown that Gag plays a key role in making new HIV particles.

Eric O. Freed of NIAID said the new work shows that the connection between Gag and the rafts is a critical step in making new HIV particles. This finding might one day lead to new drugs against AIDs, he said.