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Disabled Defense: HIV protein counters immune-cell gene

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8:56am, July 17, 2002

Here's more proof of how difficult it will be to defeat the AIDS virus. Scientists have identified a human gene whose protein can naturally thwart the replication of HIV within cells–however, most copies of the virus have a molecule of their own, called Vif, that undermines that defense.

Some investigators suggest that the newfound gene is part of the body's antiviral defense system. Not all biologists embrace that interpretation, but they nonetheless hail the gene's discovery as an important advance in HIV biology. Several investigators also suggest that the work will renew consideration of Vif as a target for AIDS drugs.

"It's a very exciting breakthrough," says Dana Gabuzda of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "The specific mechanism of action of Vif has been poorly understood."

The AIDS virus naturally targets select immune cells, primarily ones called T cells. Vif, which stands for virion infectivity factor, seems to play a vital role when HIV

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