London, March 4 : A team of researchers from the US and Canadian has uncovered how a protein in some people's DNA guards them against killer infections like HIV.
The researchers insist that the knowledge of how the FOX03a protein shields against viral attacks may be important for the development of a HIV vaccine.
"HIV infection is characterised by the slow demise of T-cells, in particular central memory cells, which can mediate lifelong protection against viruses," Nature Medicine quoted lead researcher Rafick-Pierre Sekaly, a Universite de Montreal professor and a researcher at the Centre Hospitalier de l'Universite de Montreal and the French Institut national de la sante et de la recherche medicale (Inserm), as saying.
"Our group has found how the key protein, FOX03a, is vital to the survival of central memory cells that are defective in HIV-infected individuals even if they are treated," added Dr. Sekaly, who produced his study with CHUM and Inserm colleagues including Elias El Haddad and Julien van Grevenynghe.
The researchers revealed that they achieved the breakthrough by studying three groups of men-one HIV-negative sample, a second HIV-positive group whose infection was successfully controlled through tritherapy and a third group whose HIV did not show any symptoms.
Participants in the third group, also called elite controllers, fended off infection without treatment because their immune system maintained its resilient immune memory through the regulation of the FOX03a protein.
"Given their perfect resistance to HIV infection, elite controllers represent the ideal study group to examine how proteins are responsible for the maintenance of an immune system with good anti-viral memory," said Dr. Haddad.
"This is the first study to examine, in people rather than animals, what shields the body's immune system from infection and to pinpoint the fundamental role of FOX03a in defending the body," the researcher added.
Dr. Sekaly said that besides HIV treatment, his team's discovery offered promise for other immune diseases.
"The discovery of FOX03a will enable scientists to develop appropriate therapies for other viral diseases that weaken the immune system," he said, citing cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, as well as organ or bone marrow transplant rejection.