Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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How HIV gains entry into non-dividing cells

31 March 2019

Sneaking In

Viruses are essentially lengths of DNA or RNA with a protective protein coat hell-bent on exploiting your cells’ resources and abilities. They sneak inside and head to the nucleus – the cell's control centre. The nucleus is shielded by an impenetrable fortress wall that only opens up when the cell divides – the nuclear envelope. HIV-1, however, manages to worm its way into the nucleus of cells that never divide. It heads for pores in the envelope – small, heavily guarded gates in the wall – but shouldn’t be able to get through because of its size. To understand how it slips in, researchers gave it a fluorescent label and watched it in action. HIV-1 (pink) binds first to a protein on the pore (Nup153, green), and then to another inside the nucleus, which pulls it through. Identifying this weakness in the fortress might lead researchers to new treatments to fortify defences, and keep HIV out.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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