Using computational techniques, researchers have shown how a protein responsible for the maturation of the virus releases itself to initiate infection.
Bioinformaticians at IMIM (Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute) and UPF (Pompeu Fabra University) have used molecular simulation techniques to explain a specific step in the maturation of the HIV virions, i.e., how newly formed inert virus particles become infectious, which is essential in understanding how the virus replicates. These results, which have been published in the latest edition of PNAS, could be crucial to the design of future antiretrovirals.
HIV virions mature and become infectious as a result of the action of a protein called HIV protease. This protein acts like a pair of scissors, cutting the long chain of connected proteins that form HIV into individual proteins that will form the infectious structure of new virions. According to the researchers of the IMIM-UPF computational biophysics group, "One of the most intriguing aspects of the whole HIV maturation process is how free HIV protease, i.e. the 'scissors protein,' appears for the first time, since it is also initially part of the long poly-protein chains that make up new HIV virions."