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The molecule that protects against AIDS identified

The AIDS virus, in green, produced by a cell infected
The AIDS virus, in green, produced by a cell infected
 

They are called "controllers of AIDS." These patients are able to control HIV naturally human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and therefore do not develop any symptoms of the disease. The mechanism behind this surprising natural immunity, which protects less than 0.4% of infected people, has long puzzled doctors. An extensive global study, pre-published online by Science magazine, has collected data on nearly 1000 patients and 2650 controllers. Scientists were able to isolate certain genetic variations to explain the mysterious phenomenon.

"Of the 3 billion nucleotides of human genome, only a handful explains the difference between people who are infected remain healthy and those who develop the disease if not treated," says Bruce Walker, one of principal authors of the study, which brings together hundreds of researchers. The 300 genetic differences are all on the same chromosome, and most interesting on the single gene encoding the synthesis of a protein involved in the functioning of our immune system and called HLA-B.

This is a key element of the system of recognition and identification of human cells called HLA. Thanks to it (and sometimes because of it in the case of transplants) that our body recognizes foreign objects and fights. But when a virus enters our body, it "hides" in a cell which will modify the mechanism. This is where the HLA-B. Its role is to bring pieces of proteins synthesized by the virus within the cell to the surface. The immune system can distinguish between infected cells, it will destroy, and it will not touch healthy cells.

In the case of HIV, the immune system does not perform properly its mission to destroy infected cells. The mechanisms involved are not fully deciphered, but it seems now that it is this stage of presentation of the virus to the immune system that does not unfold properly. Except for controllers whose HLA-B proteins, slightly different from others, would work properly.

This scenario, if confirmed, is a key element in understanding the disease. "There is still a long way to go before we can turn this discovery to cure or preventive vaccine, but it is an important step," says Bruce Walker concludes.

Nucleotides are small constituent molecules of DNA: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), cytosine (C). The sequence of these "letters" establishes a code that provides the genetic message.

 
 
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