Salk Institute

Researchers at the Salk Institute are making major contributions to understanding the biology of the AIDS virus, HIV. This knowledge may lead to the development of effective new strategies and therapies to prevent and treat the disease. By learning more about the life cycle of the virus, how it integrates itself into a host cell and how it replicates, Salk investigators can explore new targets for intervention.

Recent Discoveries

  • Scientists discovered a previously unknown step in the HIV replication process. They found that sulfonation, a type of chemical modification, takes place in the early phase of infection to ensure the viral genes can be efficiently expressed after it has successfully integrated into the host genome. Their findings suggest that drugs that block the sulfonation pathway may render the host cells resistant to HIV infection.
  • A collaborative study has identified 295 host cell proteins the HIV virus uses to successfully establish infection. By revealing the virus' roadmap for the first time, the recent finding may lead to the development of a new class of HIV therapeutics aimed at disrupting the human-HIV interactions that lead to viral infection.
  • Salk researchers recently discovered that HIV targets active genes when it inserts itself into a host cell's genome. These genes are currently being replicated, making it more likely that HIV will itself be replicated and the infection spread. The study demonstrates that HIV has evolved a highly efficient mechanism for reproducing itself.
  • Researchers have also found that a newly discovered antiviral regulatory system, RNA interference, could be adapted to inhibit HIV replication and disease in a model organism. They are working to develop a potential drug candidate to inhibit the integrase enzyme. Inhibiting this enzyme might prevent HIV from being able to integrate itself into a host cell's genome.
  • In another project, researchers have found that several new drug candidates inhibit the replication of a wide range of HIV viruses derived from patients in North America and Africa. But they found that the virus learned to resist the effects of the drugs. The next step is to determine what caused the resistance to develop so that resistance can be minimized when the drugs are used clinically.
Katherine A. Jones
Regulatory Biology Laboratory

Inder M. Verma
Laboratory of Genetics
American Cancer Society Professor of Molecular Biology
Irwin and Joan Jacobs Chair in Exemplary Life Science

NIH awards $21 million grant to study early stages of HIV-1 infection

A multi-institutional team headed by John Young, Ph.D., a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and Sumit Chanda, Ph.D., an associate professor at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, has been awarded a $21 million Program Project Grant to dissect the early innate immune response to HIV infection using a systems biology approach.

The project will bring together a multidisciplinary team that draws on the expertise of 13 research groups at seven institutions to uncover the cellular protein machinery that represents the first line of defense against HIV, the cause of AIDS.

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