Sweet defense against HIV

Sugar coated proteins that mimic the HIV virus could prevent infection or provide a vaccine.

Originally published online: July 2008

HIV affects millions of people worldwide and this global health concern is a target for many scientists seeking vaccines or cures. Although considerable progress has been made over recent years, an effective antibody-based vaccine remains elusive.

The surface of the HIV virus protein is heavily coated with sugars, known as the ‘glycan shield’ and this shield is believed to mask the virus from the body and prevent an immune response. The sugar coating may also aid binding to another type of protein, lectin, and facilitate viral infection. Consequently being able to recognize or disrupt this mask is an attractive target.

Now, a team led by Chi-Huey Wong from the Academia Sinica, Taiwan and the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California has developed a route to synthesize a range of branched compounds, known as dendrons, which mimic the shield of HIV. Dendrons were chosen because their exact size and number of sugar molecules can be controlled.

In tests, the dendrons interacted with a general HIV antibody, 2G12, and a test lectin, which prevented efficient binding of the glycan shield fragment of HIV. The good binding properties of one particular dendron mean that it can be used in the development of vaccine candidates and antiviral agents.

Wang S.-K., Liang P.-H., Astronomo R. D., Hsu‡ T.-L., Hsieh S.-L., Burton D. R.,& Wong C.-H. Targeting the carbohydrates on HIV-1: Interaction of oligomannose dendrons with human monoclonal antibody 2G12 and DC-SIGN. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2008, 105, 3690–3695