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Scientists discovered importance of Interleukin-21 protein in fight against HIV-1 infection

Jul 3, 2015 09:00 IST

Scientists discovered that the Interleukin-21 (IL-21) protein plays an important role in limiting replication of human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) in infected humans.

The discovery was published in an article titled IL-21 induces antiviral microRNA-29 in CD4 T cells to limit HIV-1 infection on 25 June 2015 in the Nature Communications journal. The study was spearhead by Stanley Adoro , a postdoctoral associate at the Cornell Medical College in New York, USA.

In the study, scientists discovered that the IL-21 protein, produced by the CD4+T cells, plays an important role by activating microRNA-29 in other CD4 T cells that specialise in killing HIV-1 virus and drive the production of antibodies that attack the virus.

Scientists arrived at this conclusion after experimenting with two models.

In Model 1, a culture from human tissues, primarily spleen and lymph node tissue, was created and exposed to IL-21. Later, HIV-1 was introduced to the culture. After 72 hours, it was found that cultures with IL-21 contained more than two-thirds less virus than those that didn't contain IL-21.

In Model 2, IL-21 was tested in mice that are transplanted with human stem cells in order to create a physiological environment as close as possible to that in human beings. After 14 days, it was found that more than half of the mice with IL-21 did not display a detectable level of HIV-1 as against the growth of virus in normal mice.

Importance of the study

The study assumes significance due to the fact that curtailing the spread of the HIV-1 virus in its early stage of infection is the key to successful implementation of anti-HIV strategies.

Now, it is possible to find a new potential HIV therapy by increasing the IL-21 protein count that are naturally produced by the CD4+T cells as soon as they detect HIV-1 virus.

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