NIH Funds Centers to Study Structural Biology of HIV

National Institute of General Medical Sciences
August 27, 2007

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), components of the National Institutes of Health, have launched three new research centers to deepen our biological understanding of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. 

The centers, expected to receive $54 million over 5 years, will integrate a variety of techniques from structural biology and biochemistry to capture in unprecedented detail the three-dimensional structures of HIV proteins bound to human cellular components, such as proteins or DNA. The structural information will help elucidate how the different components interact and reveal new approaches for disrupting those interactions, potentially leading to new targets for HIV therapies or vaccines. 

The centers 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.

Frankel’s HIV Accessory and Regulatory Complexes (HARC) Center, which is slated to receive more than $18 million, will develop new tools and methods to create a complete picture of HIV-host cell interactions occurring during the early phases of the virus’s life cycle. The center will focus on key HIV proteins that perform important regulatory and accessory functions.

Gronenborn’s University of Pittsburgh Center for HIV Protein Interactions, estimated to receive about $16 million, will specialize in developing a structure determination pipeline to image pivotal events occurring right after the virus fuses with the host cell. The center will establish a framework for computationally predicting important cellular partners for HIV and for experimentally validating such predictions.

Sundquist’s Structural Biology Center for HIV/Host Interactions in Trafficking and Assembly will receive about $19 million to use computational and experimental methods to analyze HIV molecular complexes and determine how they interact with and commandeer cellular machinery to traffic throughout the cell and form new virus particles. By visually reconstructing various elements of virus particle assembly and trafficking, the center aims to develop HIV into a model for studying how other human viruses interact with cellular hosts.

New methodologies and tools developed by the centers will be available to the research community at large. The centers also will collaborate with other scientists engaged in structural and functional studies of HIV, including researchers funded by NIAID through a coordinated funding program.

To learn more about these centers, contact the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at 301-496-7301 or

NIGMS (, a component of the National Institutes of Health, supports basic biomedical research that is the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.