Yes, You Can Blame it on the Semen
Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia have new insight on HIV’s spreading capability and why it is so hard to fight.
The study found that a peptide (a naturally occuring molecule) in semen creates a structure known as amyloid fibrils, which actually enhances the virus’s infection rate up to 10,000 times. This in conjunction with the virus’s ability to turn infection-fighting proteins in human immune cells into an inviting host makes the disease difficult to combat.
However, researchers still don’t know why amyloid fibrils enhance the infection rate.
“Amyloid fibrils play an important role in a number of prominent diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and others,” Dr. Ian Musgrave stated in a media release from the university. “And it’s absolutely essential that we understand how they work if we have any hope of developing new drugs to stop them.”
Researchers at the university have been studying these "semen-derived enhancers of viral infection (SEVI)." During the studies, they found that even if the SEVI is broken apart the pieces continue to be toxic to human cells. (Imagine the liquid metal, shapeshifting T-1000 from Terminator 2 here.)
"This suggests that you can't just prevent one part of SEVI from aggregating and being toxic to cells,” Musgrave said in the media release. “You need to shut the whole thing down or stop it from forming in the first place.”
Yet, epithelial cells fair better than other human cells. According to the study, healthy epithelial cells are resistant to the virus, proving to be a good barrier against HIV infection. Still the researchers say more research is needed to better understand the peptide and how to better combat it.