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Cats the Key to Fighting AIDS?

Sep 16, 2014 03:14 PM EDT

Cats may be the key to fighting AIDS, which kills millions of people in the United States alone each year, lending a helping paw in the search for anti-HIV drugs, according to a new study.

These furry felines can contract FIV, which is pretty much the cat equivalent of HIV seen in humans. Scientists from the American Technion Society believe the similarity between these two viruses could inspire new anti-HIV drugs.

According to the research, published in the journal Cell Structure, both FIV and HIV rely on a protein called integrase that inserts the virus' DNA into an infected cell's DNA. Now, the researchers - led by Assistant Professor Akram Alian and graduate student Meytal Galilee of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology - may have found a new weak point in the protein that can serve as an effective target for anti-HIV drugs.

"Designing drugs which target such specific hot spots," Alian explained in a statement," may be easier than targeting the entire protein-protein interacting interface."

The researchers came up with a detailed, 3-D molecular map of FIV integrase that could help scientists also understand how this protein works in HIV. For example, they have recognized a mutation that occurs in a single amino acid that could be critical in highlighting how the protein assembles itself from simpler building blocks.

This amino acid change, according to the findings, can convert the integrase from the more complex to the simpler form in FIV.

In fact, that single amino acid may act as a crucial "hinge" point that connects two molecular subunits and allows them to pivot about in the protein's fully active core.

"Highlighting the an important observation that should be considered in the future design of integrase drugs," Alian added

Galilee and Alian plan to continue their research, focusing on how the FIV virus might evolve over time.

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