This is some exciting stuff. We have long known about the various parts of the HIV particle, from the outer lipid membrane and docking glycoproteins to the viral RNA within. However, the intermediate structure, the P24 capsid, the shell of the delivered genomic payload when HIV particles dock has never been mapped out. The problem was always one of computational power. We simply did not have the number crunching power to solve the structure. Until now.
With the help of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, a team of researchers, armed with the petaflop supercomputer Blue Waters have finally published the structure of the HIV Capsid.
Dr. Peijun Zhang, project lead and associate professor in structural biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine explained the significance of this to BBC: “The capsid is critically important for HIV replication, so knowing its structure in detail could lead us to new drugs that can treat or prevent the infection. The capsid has to remain intact to protect the HIV genome and get it into the human cell, but once inside, it has to come apart to release its content so that the virus can replicate. Developing drugs that cause capsid dysfunction by preventing its assembly or disassembly might stop the virus from reproducing.”
This breakthrough in understanding the assembly and shape of the capsid could create a new avenue of therapy that can inhibit its assembly or disassembly.
"The big problem with HIV is that it evolves so quickly that any drug you use you get drug resistance, which is why we use a multi-drug cocktail," Professor Simon Lovell, a structural biologist at the University of Manchester, said. "This is another target, another thing we can go after to develop a new class of drugs to work alongside the existing class."
Read more: BBC. Nature. University of Illinois. National Science Foundation. NIH