Third Coast Center for AIDS Research would like to congratulate Mojgan Naghavi, PhD, associate professor of Microbiology-Immunology, and Qingqing Chai, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Naghavi’s lab, for having identified and inhibited a molecular process that can lead to neurodegeneration in patients with HIV, a study published in Nature Communications.

As studies in the past have found elevated levels of toxic beta-amyloid protein in the brains of patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), causing HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND), Naghavi and her lab focused on how and why beta-amyloid is produced in HIV-infected patients and its contribution to HAND.

Naghavi, the senior author on the study, and Qingqing Chai, PhD, the lead author made the first step in this discovery after performing a large-scale assay looking for uncommon interactions between cellular proteins and Gag, an important HIV protein. Some proteins were shown to bind with Gag, but membrane-associated amyloid precursor protein (APP), a protein that can be processed to produce the toxic beta-amyloid protein was distinct from the others.

When the developed drug blocks APP processing, it reduces beta-amyloid and increases APP compared to non-drugged models. This increase in APP results in the combined benefits of reduced neurodegeneration and sustaining APP’s original function of blocking infection. However, translating these findings into a drug that works and ensures safety is still in development, but Naghavi is positive about progress made.

“HIV patients on combination antiretroviral therapy have close to a normal life, but they are still suffering from diseases like HAND,” Naghavi said. “This is just the beginning.”

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