University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center researchers have deciphered how the small Tat protein made by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS manipulates hundreds of human genes to further the virus’s deadly agenda. The new findings, published on October 21, 2015 in the online, open-access journal eLife, could aid in the search for new or improved treatments for patients with AIDS, or to the development of preventive strategies. The article is titled “HIV Tat Controls RNA Polymerase II and the Epigenetic Landscape to Transcriptionally Reprogram Target Immune Cells.” “We have identified the molecular mechanisms by which the Tat protein made by HIV interacts with the host cell to activate or repress several hundred human genes,” said Dr. Iván D’Orso, Assistant Professor of Microbiology at UT Southwestern and senior author of the new study. “The findings clearly suggest that blocking Tat activity may be of therapeutic value to HIV patients.” It has long been known that HIV causes AIDS by hijacking the body’s immune cells, transforming them into HIV factories, and killing other immune cells that normally fight disease. HIV also hides in cells and continues to undermine the host’s immune system despite anti-retroviral therapy that has improved the outlook of those with AIDS. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2012, estimated that 1.2 million Americans were living with HIV, including 156,300 whose infections had not been diagnosed. About 50,000 people in the U.S. are newly infected with HIV annually, the CDC projects. In 2013, the CDC estimated that over 26,000 Americans had the advanced form of HIV infection known as AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).
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