Chemical in HIV May Lead to New Way of Treating Disease

Researchers in UCLA have been studying a molecule in HIV called the ‘Tat’ peptide. This peptide may lead to new ways of treating illness.

Peptides are complex molecules. They are made up amino acids and are similar to short proteins. The ‘Tat’ peptide is a specific peptide found in HIV that is a molecular wizard at getting into cells. In fact, not only does it get itself into cells, but it can bring other things in with it. The ‘Tat’ peptide has been able to sneak DNA fragments, and other molecules in when it enters a cell.

Gerard Wong, of UCLA, has described the ‘Tat’ peptide as a Swiss Army knife molecule; because it has three different ways it can get into a cell.

A peptide carrying 'cargo' into a cell.

• It has a specific sequence that makes it good at interacting with the cell membrane

• Its dense amino acid concentration lets it interact strongly with both:

  • the receptors in the membrane

  • the cell’s cytoskeleton.

The research team at UCLA believes that with what they have learned about how the ‘Tat’ peptide gets into cells, they may be able to create new peptides with similar abilities. These new peptides could be used to carry medicines into cells, the same way the ‘Tat’ peptide carries other molecules in.

If these new peptides can be successfully developed, this new method of delivering medicine can be targeted to specific cells that are affected by a disease. The UCLA study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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