Non-stick coating of semen protein reduces HIV infection of immune cells

A non-stick coating for a substance found in semen dramatically lowers the rate of infection of immune cells by HIV a new study has found.

The new material, developed by chemists at the University of California, San Diego, is a potential ingredient for microbicides designed to reduce transmission of HIV, a team from UCSD and the University of Rochester Medical Center reports in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The coating clings to fibrous strings and mats of protein called SEVI–for semen-derived enhancer of viral infection–which was first discovered just three years ago. SEVI seems to attract the virus and deposit it onto the surface of T-cells, components of the immune system that are the primary target of HIV infection, and may play an important role in sexual transmission of HIV.

Like the fibrous strings that bind senile plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease, SEVI is a kind of protein superstructure called an amyloid.

Chemistry professor Jerry Yang's group at UC San Diego developed non-stick coatings for amyloids as a potential treatment for Alzheimer's disease in 2006. Their idea was to minimize damage by preventing amyloid proteins from interacting with other molecules in the brain.

When this new amyloid, SEVI, was discovered in 2007, Yang was interested in testing whether the coating strategy might interfere with SEVI's role in promoting HIV infection.
Yang's group teamed up with researchers led by Stephen Dewhurst, chair of the microbiology and immunology department at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who studies HIV.