Another prospect for detecting and treating early-stage AIDS infectionresides in the blood of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus(SLE).This autoimmune disease often occurs together with Mixed ConnectiveTissue Disease (MCTD), a combination that afflicts one in 2,000Americans. So said rheumatologist and molecular immunologistAngeline Douvas, principal author of a report in the March issue ofAIDS Research and Human Retroviruses. It describes her team'sdiscovery that antibodies to autoimmune disorders can block HIVinfection in vitro.Douvas, who heads a laboratory at the University of SouthernCalifornia (USC) School of Medicine, found that a 70-kilodaltonnuclear protein, a natural target of autoimmune antibodies that thebody produces in response to MCTD and SLE, mimics HIV antigens.The 70K molecule, Douvas told BioWorld, has extensive similarity tothe HIV envelope complex _ notably such epitopes as gp120 andgp41 _ which are the most frequent targets of AIDS vaccine researchand development.She cited examples of the 50-to-100 percent homology of theautoimmune mimic amino acids and those of the HIV surface epitopes.One 100 percent identical sequence, for instance, consists of glycine-glycine-aspartic acid-methionine; another look-alike stretch involvesserine-serine-serine-glycine-arginine. Antibodies recognize both theseand other strings of antigenic amino-acids in the autoimmune bloodand in the envelope proteins of HIV-positive individuals."Steps two and three in our research," Douvas said, "are to proceedfrom Petri dishes to animal models and then humans." In both steps,USC is collaborating with North American Biologicals Inc. (NABI) ofMiami.NABI is now funding Douvas' ongoing research and developmentbased on a pending patent her university filed last year. NABI's chiefexecutive officer, David Gury, told BioWorld that his company willacquire licenses to data in that patent when it issues. Meanwhile,NABI is preparing for therapeutic testing in chimpanzees "within thenext few months." Two or three animals, after receiving pooledimmune globulin from individuals with SLE or MCTD, will bechallenged with HIV.The endpoint of this study, Gury said, which is "absence of virus,"would then lead on to human trials. n

-- David N. Leff Science Editor

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