Molecule Could Help Block Sexual Transmission of HIV

MONDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've discovered an agent that appears to make sexual transmission of HIV less likely.

The molecule, called surfen, has the potential to become an ingredient in topical microbicides that aim to reduce the likelihood of infection through semen, according to the report released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Surfen is a small molecule that interferes with the action of a factor in semen called "semen-derived enhancer of viral infection," or SEVI.

"Surprisingly, although HIV readily replicates once inside the body, the virus struggles to establish a beachhead of infection during sexual transmission," Dr. Warner Greene, senior author of the new study, explained in a news release from the Gladstone Institutes. "We have been studying SEVI, a naturally occurring factor present in semen that can make HIV thousands of times more infectious. Knowing more about surfen, a SEVI inhibitor, might enable us to lower transmission rates of HIV."

SEVI is thought to increase the likelihood of HIV infection by 100,000 times in some cases because it appears to help the virus attach to cells. HIV infection can lead to AIDS.

"Because SEVI can so greatly enhance HIV infectivity, supplementing current HIV microbicide candidates with SEVI inhibitors, such as surfen, might increase their potency and overall effectiveness," said Greene, director of the University of California at San Francisco's Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology.

-- Randy Dotinga

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SOURCE: Gladstone Institutes, news release, Jan. 4, 2010