A Canada-U.S. research team has solved a major genetic mystery: How a protein in some people’s DNA guards them against killer immune diseases such as HIV. In an advance online edition of Nature Medicine, the scientists explain how the protein, FOX03a, shields against viral attacks and how the discovery will help in the development of a HIV vaccine.
The breakthrough emerged by studying three groups of men: One HIV-negative sample, a second HIV-positive group whose infection was successfully controlled through tritherapy and a third group whose HIV did not show any symptoms. Called elite controllers, this third group fended off infection without treatment because their immune system, which would normally be attacked by HIV, maintained its resilient immune memory through the regulation of the FOX03a protein.
“Given their perfect resistance to HIV infection, elite controllers represent the ideal study group to examine how proteins are responsible for the maintenance of an immune system with good anti-viral memory,” said Dr. Haddad. “This is the first study to examine, in people rather than animals, what shields the body’s immune system from infection and to pinpoint the fundamental role of FOX03a in defending the body.”