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It was recently discovered that about 1% of people infected with the HIV virus naturally produce a high volume of a specialized protein called the A3 protein which allows them to maintain long-term control over their HIV infection. These proteins are found in resting memory T cells, which harbor dormant virus and are the largest reservoir of persistent infection in HIV-positive patients. When the A3 protein is present in these T cells, however, it renders any new HIV produced by those cells harmless.
But what really differentiates A3 proteins from other immune cells is that it is able to recognize the HIV virus even when it has mutated. As Dr. Richard D’Aquila, director of Northwestern’s HIV Translational Research Center puts it,
“The intrinsic immune system recognizes the basic guts of the virus — the nucleic acids — that HIV can’t change…”
The A3 then attacks these most fundamental nucleic acids. D’Aquila and other scientists are hopeful that in the next few years we will be able to preserve and even increase the number of A3 proteins naturally produced in the body, significantly slowing the spread of HIV and prevent the virus from making a comeback when anti-viral medications are stopped.