New Centers to Study HIV's Basic Biology, Drug Resistance

National Institute of General Medical Sciences

September 21, 2012

For more than 25 years, NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences has funded basic research on the structure and function of different components of HIV, with the goal of aiding the identification of new targets for antiviral treatments. A major boost to this effort is the launch of two new centers focused on understanding elements of the HIV infected host cell that are critical to the viral life cycle. They join three existing centers that recently received renewed funding for another 5 years. All five Specialized Centers for the Determination of Structures of HIV/Host Complexes are co-funded by NIGMS and NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The new centers are led by structural molecular biologist Arthur Olson, Ph.D., at The Scripps Research Institute and molecular virologist Alice Telesnitsky, Ph.D., at the University of Michigan under NIH grants 1P50GM103368 and 1P50GM103297, respectively.

Olson's HIV Interaction and Viral Evolution (HIVE) Center, which will receive up to $20 million over 5 years, will focus on interactions of major HIV enzymes, structural proteins and their partners, particularly as the virus mutates. Through structural, biochemical and computational studies, the research team will investigate how these interactions affect the virus's function and its response to selective pressure imposed by drugs used in AIDS therapy. The details could improve understanding of drug resistance and lay the groundwork for developing anti-HIV treatments that exploit the virus's biology.

Telesnitsky's Center for HIV RNA Studies (CRNA), which will receive up to $21.5 million in funding over 5 years, will study the structural biology of viral RNA and its interactions with viral and host proteins. Because RNA is less amenable to structural analysis than proteins are, the researchers will develop approaches to overcome this technical challenge. Their work could help identify RNA-based targets for HIV treatments as well as shed light on the multiple biological functions of the viral genome.

The three existing specialized centers, which will use the renewed funding to build on their earlier work, are led by Alan Frankel, Ph.D., a biochemist at the University of California, San Francisco; Angela Gronenborn, Ph.D., a structural biologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Wesley Sundquist, Ph.D., a biochemist at the University of Utah, under NIH grants 2P50GM082250, 2P50GM082251 and 2P50GM082545, respectively.

For more information about the NIGMS AIDS-Related Structural Biology program, including descriptions of the existing centers, see /Research/FeaturedPrograms/AIDSStructuralBiology.