The breakthrough

Published: Saturday 15 June 1996

IT COULD be the key to unlocking the mystery of the AIDS virus. Scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Maryland, have found a protein that enables the entry Of HIV, the AIDS virus, into human immune system cells, signalling a deadly cycle of destruction.

The virus first attacks a receptor molecule known as CD-4, which lies embedded in the surface of certain cells. Scientists had long established that CD-4 was insufficient for infection. They were looking for a protein on the cells' surface that opens the door for the virus. Now, they have discovered the elusive 'co-factor' protein and named it 'fusin', because it helps the coat of the virus to fuse with the cell's outer -membrane and inject its genetic material into it. Anthony S Fauci, director, NIAID, described the finding as a "tremendous advance". The discovery could make it possible to study genetically engineered mice or rabbits that are likely to be infected with HIV and could be used to test new drugs and vaccines.

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